What is Sarin? - Chemical Warfare

Many people have heard of the poison sarin, but don't know what it is

The very notion of a poisonous gas is enough to send fear and terror through whole communities. The effects of Sarin are lethal, and it is banned for use in many countries and its use is considered to be a war crime.

Chemical Weapons Attack in Helabja, Iraq - 1988
Chemical Weapons Attack in Helabja, Iraq - 1988 | Source

Sarin is an odourless, tasteless and colourless liquid, made from a combination of four chemical compounds

Similar to organophosphate pesticides, the man-made chemical Sarin was discovered to be a toxic nerve agent in Germany in 1938 whilst scientists were working on making stronger and more effective pesticides.

The History of Sarin

In 1939 the formula was taken up by the German chemical warfare department. Germany built plants to produce Sarin during World War II, but did not use it against the Allies.

Sarin is known as GB, one of the G-series of volatile liquid nerve agents

In the 1950’s, sarin was produced by the USA and USSR for military purposes and experiments were conducted in the UK.

Syria started stockpiling chemical weapons in the early 1980’s, after they were defeated in various wars against Israel and Israel’s development of nuclear weapons. Both sides in the current Syrian civil war have accused each other of using sarin gas.

In 1988 the Kurdish city of Halabja in Northern Iraq was bombed with chemical bombs including Sarin, killing about 5,000 people in the poison gas attack. It may also have been used in the war between Iran and Iraq.

In 1993, 162 members of The United Nations signed the UN Chemical Weapons Convention banning production of certain chemical weapons, one of which was Sarin, specifying the total destruction of certain stockpiled chemical weapons by April 2007. Sarin was classified as a weapon of mass destruction, because of its high potency as a nerve agent.

In 1993 and 1994 there were two incidents in Japan where sarin was released, and in the first attack, eight people were killed and hundreds injured. After the Tokyo Metro attack, twelve commuters died and over five thousand were injured.

Sarin is difficult to trace because it evaporates and disperses quickly but remnants are left in the place where it is used. Investigators would need to obtain evidence from hair, blood, urine, tissue or soil samples, and to obtain these, they would need to have access to the suspect area and victims.

Effect of Sarin:

Sarin interferes with the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which switches off glands and muscles. When the switch is blocked, the muscles are over-stimulated, which may cause death from asphyxiation when the muscles used for breathing malfunction. Symptoms from contact with sarin vapour are triggered immediately, whereas contact with liquid sarin may produce symptoms within a few minutes and up to eighteen hours.

With a low dose, symptoms are watering eyes, runny nose, drooling, excessive sweating, vomiting and nausea. With a high dose, there may be convulsions, loss of consciousness, paralysis, or respiratory failure followed by death.

Sarin is highly volatile and may be absorbed through the skin. If clothing has come into contact with sarin, it may release sufficient poison to harm other people, and, without immediate and correct treatment, they too could suffer permanent neurological damage.

Death can follow amost immediately if a lethal dose of sarin is ingested, unless a chemical antidote is administered. Sarin is far more toxic than cyanide, and anyone administering treatment should wear protective clothing.


More about Chemical Warfare from Amazon: A depressing but very informative account of the history of nerve gas

Sarin on YouTube

You never know when this book might help you. It's about everything to do with survival, not just poisonous gas

This is a news video by al Jazeera

General Advice for Sarin Poisoning:

In the event of sarin poisoning, it is important to deliver the victim to a hospital which has knowledge and the appropriate antidote, as not every hospital has these.

Anything which may be contaminated with sarin should be removed, using rubber gloves, and placed in a sealed bag for proper disposal. Clothing should not be lifted over the victim’s head, as this could cause further gas inhalation, and, if necessary, should be cut away.

The person should be rinsed all over, and washed with soap to get rid of the sarin residue, which is quite likely to poison care givers.

The best antidotes to Sarin poisoning are pralidoxime and antropine, which should be given as soon as possible if they are to be effective.

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What do you think about the use of sarin in chemical warfare? 10 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

For whatever reason I was not aware of what sarin was...thank you for the education. What do I think of it in chemical warfare? I'm against all chemical warfare; thus I'm against sarin. :)


mbuggieh 3 years ago

I think the use of sarin gas AND any form of chemical warfare is entirely criminal.

And remember, the production and stockpiling of sarin was outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.


calculus-geometry profile image

calculus-geometry 3 years ago from Germany

Interesting! I didn't know it was discovered by way of pesticides. It seems like a lot of drugs/chemicals that are prescribed/used for one main purpose were discovered while scientists were investigating a completely different use. (BTW, you have a repeated block of text you might want to edit out.)


Diana Grant profile image

Diana Grant 3 years ago from London Author

Yes, the reason I wrote this was because I, too, didn't know what sarin was, and, having looked it up, I always like to share my knowledge.


Diana Grant profile image

Diana Grant 3 years ago from London Author

The trouble is that not every country signs up to these Conventions. And the question is: have you committed a war crime if you didn't agree to avoid using chemical warfare in the first place? In my opinion, yes, a crime has been committed.

But I am not sure whether this is so under International Law. Does anyone know the answer to this?


Diana Grant profile image

Diana Grant 3 years ago from London Author

Scientific Research is neutral, but can be put to very harmful use, as when the atom was split, and then used for atomic bombs. Warfare has always been vicious and cruel, but seems to have got a whole lot worse in the last 75 years or so.

Thanks for pointing out my repeat paragraph - that's what happens when I work until I'm too tired to spot the obvious, after midnight.


lisa42 profile image

lisa42 3 years ago from Sacramento

I remember the Tokyo Metro attacks because I was commuting by train at that point. It's scary that dangerous people can get access to such deadly substances.


Ranzi profile image

Ranzi 3 years ago from All Over

Very educational hub. It's sad that this chemical can so easily destroy human lives. Quite disturbing what's happening in the world.

Thanks for sharing


lifelovemystery profile image

lifelovemystery 3 years ago from Houston, TX

That is some really nasty stuff. War is hell.


Lorelei Cohen profile image

Lorelei Cohen 2 years ago from Canada

Yikes this really is frightening. The world is such a scary place today.

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