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What is Sarin?--Chemical Warfare

Updated on October 25, 2020
Diana Grant profile image

I'm a retired lawyer interested in thuman rights, current affairs, psychology, law, justice, criminology, philosophical & ethical questions

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

Chemical Components

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 fortunately 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 1980s, 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 Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare
A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare
If you are interested in learning more about chemical weapons, you'll find this book a depressing but very informative account of the history of nerve gas

Sarin on YouTube

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.

Take This Poll About Sarin:

Did you know much about Sarin before reading this article?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

What Do You Think About the Use of Sarin in Chemical Warfare?

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    • srsddn profile image

      Sukhdev Shukla 

      4 years ago from Dehra Dun, India

      Diana, I hope the resolutions of 1993 Convention are followed in letter and spirit. In the present scenario, Sarin falling into wrong hands could be disastrous in view of its capacity to annihilate. Thanks for enlightening the Hubbers about this destructive chemical.

    • profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 years ago

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

    • lifelovemystery profile image

      Michelle Orelup 

      8 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      That is some really nasty stuff. War is hell.

    • Ranzi profile image

      Cut The Bullshit 

      8 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

    • lisa42 profile image


      8 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.

    • Diana Grant profile imageAUTHOR

      Diana Grant 

      8 years ago from London

      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.

    • Diana Grant profile imageAUTHOR

      Diana Grant 

      8 years ago from London

      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 imageAUTHOR

      Diana Grant 

      8 years ago from London

      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.

    • profile image


      8 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.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 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. :)


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