First developed by Germany in 1938, sarin was used as a pesticide before its full lethal capabilities were understood. Eventually, its use as a chemical weapon began to evolve.
Sarin has been used as an agent of terror in the past and more recently a weapon of war. Although the chemical is highly controlled, nothing is absolute, and governments have studied the deadly effects of sarin gas in relation to terrorism prevention.
In its purest form, sarin is a clear, colorless, tasteless liquid. Exposure to as little as one to 10 mls of liquid sarin on the skin can be fatal—that’s the equivalent of several drops to two teaspoonfuls. The liquid form, however, is highly volatile and easily turns into a gas at room temperature. Concentrated vapors readily penetrate skin.
Sarin, like other chemical agents of war, attacks the nervous system and prevents the peripheral nerve endings from switching off. The agent causes overstimulation of the nerves that control muscle and glandular functions. Sarin is 26 times more deadly than cyanide.
Although sarin has a shelf life of only weeks to months, its storage time can be extended with chemical stabilizers.
This lethal agent can be absorbed into the body by inhalation, ingestion, skin contact or eye contact. Interestingly, clothing exposed to concentrated sarin vapors can absorb the gas and then release it for up to 30 minutes following contact. This exposes not only the person wearing the clothing but also those in the immediate vicinity of the victim.
The initial symptoms of sarin exposure are a runny nose, tightness in the chest and constriction of the pupils of the eye. These early symptoms progress to nausea and some drooling as muscle control in the mouth and throat area is lost. Without treatment, the symptoms progress to vomiting, loss of bodily functions, twitching and jerking.
Eventually, the person chokes and goes into convulsive spasms. Death usually results from asphyxia (an inability to breathe properly) due to loss of control over the muscles of the diaphragm.
It has been documented that death from sarin exposure is due to the “Killer B’s” – bronchorrhea (excessive watery sputum) and bronchospasm (a sudden constriction of the airways, making breathing impossible).
The lethal effects exhibit within seconds to minutes of exposure and death can occur within one to 10 minutes. Even at low concentrations, death occurs within one minute after direct ingestion and within a few hours after an indirect exposure.
Medical literature on sarin states that diagnosis of exposure to sarin is best detected by remembering the acronym “SLUDGE”: salivation, lacrimation (excessive tear production), urination, defecation, GI distress and emesis.
People can also absorb a non-lethal dose of sarin. But without immediate medical treatment with antidotes (pralidoxime, biperiden or atropine), permanent neurological damage may result.
The proper treatment for sarin exposure includes immediately removing the source of exposure, flushing the eyes with water for five to 10 minutes, quickly isolating any vomited fluids as contaminants, administering one of the antidotes, removing and isolating exposed clothing, and washing the skin with generous amounts of soap and water.
Sarin is an intriguing weapon and continues to have the potential to be center stage in thriller and international conspiracy plots as well as a dramatic murder weapon.
I can envision exciting murder scenes in which a victim is exposed to, and painfully dies from, sarin gas. The quick actions of either the protagonist or the antagonist would determine the path of the story arc.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!