August 21st, was just another ordinary day for me to go home early. No baseball practice, no after school activities no nothing. It was great. I got back home and as usual opened my laptop to read some up-to-date headlines on my Korean portal website. The most viewed news was called Syrian Chemical attack. So, I was interested because I knew that chemical weapons are banned internationally. The situation was devastating. It killed thousands of people and apparently they used forbidden chemical weapons. This fact would not have put much impact in my thought until I saw that most of them were innocent civilians. Now, to look at more detailed account of this situation, I browsed BBC. “US secretary of State John Kerry says the US knows the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack in Damascus, which he says killed 1429 people”. Here “the dead included 426 children” (Kerry, 2013). This attack is still full of ambiguity. “The debate continues over exactly what happened and who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Syrians in the early hours of 21 August.” America including other Western nations claims the regime as culprit, but the regime it self is denying and is saying it was the rebels. Now I thought, chemicals can be a serious trauma, so I decided to look at this critical chemical that ruined the lives of many.
So what kind of chemical weapon is used in Syria specifically and why are they so devastating to human health? Because, nobody was at the place of chemical attack, it is hard to articulate what chemical was used, but “the supply could include sarin, mustard, and VX gases” (Yan, 2012) one can estimate by the magnitude of death, these chemical gases were used.
What is Sarin? “Sarin is a human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. They are similar to certain kinds of insecticides (insect killers) called organophosphates in terms of how they work and what kind of harmful effects they cause. However, nerve agents are much more potent than organophosphate pesticides.” (CDC). It is composed of C4H10FO2P and how does it effect is by blocking enzyme acetyl cholinesterase, found in synapse and nerve endings. It breaks hydrolyses the neurotransmitter so that the never impulse is only passed down once attained. When enzyme is inhibited acetylcholine accumulates at nerve endings giving one to be paralyzed and to asphyxiation. (CDC). Sarin is danger because it is like “fly like a butterfly, but sting like a bee”, it is colorless and odor less. So one must look for the symptoms to detect whether they are exposed to Sarin or not. However, there is a step called a decontamination, which neutralizes the contaminated air by Sarin or other chemically dangerous gas. Hydrolysis reaction is used. Here it is a reaction with water. How does this reaction decontaminate? Because Sarin hydrolyzes with water readily and half-life in water is known as 5.4 hours using alkaline solutions would decontaminate way faster. (cbwinfo). Therefore, towelettes moistened with NaOH dissolved in water, phenol, and ammonia would be a good way to decontaminate (CDC).
Economic implication is deadly. Some say the chemicals are easy to acquire, but it will be hard to make it. However, all one need to make these deadly chemical is just a chemistry lab in schools. Moreover, how to make it is not available on any website, and this shows how governments and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking a great care to prevent terrorism. As it happened in Japan twice in 1994 and 1995, one cannot be always sure that one is safe as long as one has a handkerchief with NaOH to prevent themselves from these attacks.
Sarin Nerve Gas Molecule. [Photograph]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest. http://quest.eb.com/images/132_1184008
CBWInfo. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://cbwinfo.com/Chemical/Nerve/GB.shtml
Yan, H. (2012, 12 7). Syria’s chemical weapon potential: What is it, and what are the health risks? . Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/07/world/meast/syria-chemical-weapons-qa/index.html?iref=allsearch
Hanna, J. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/syria/cw.htm
Kerry, J. (2013, August 30). Kerry: Syria chemical weapons attack killed 1,429. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23906219
CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/sarin/basics/facts.asp