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Syria's Sarin, Chemical Weapons: FAQ

Why Worry About Syria's Sarin? continued...

Sarin is too corrosive and too dangerous to store in its active form. Weapons usually mix the final two sarin ingredients just before or during firing. News reports suggest the Syrian military already has begun mixing active sarin bombs to be loaded onto warplanes.

Use of such weapons would be an awful abuse of human rights. But that's not the only threat.

Spector says Syria has four or five chemical weapons plants near Damascus, Hama, Latakia, and Aleppo. There's already heavy fighting in those areas. There's a risk that these weapons might fall into the hands of criminals or terrorist organizations, or that Syria might ship them to nations more likely to use them than the Syrians had been.

Journalist Elaine M. Grossman, writing for Global Security Newswire, says a highly placed defense expert told her that the U.S. government has "essentially about 10 plans now in the works" for dealing with various possible scenarios. Those plans, she notes, are highly classified.

What Is VX?

VX, invented by a British chemist in the early 1950s, is a nerve gas even more deadly than sarin. Like sarin, it is tasteless and odorless. Unlike sarin, it is thick and oily. It evaporates only as quickly as motor oil and thus can remain in the environment for months.

What Are the Symptoms of Sarin and VX Poisoning?

The first signs of poisoning with sarin or VX are a runny nose and pinpoint pupils. Those who do not get an immediately lethal dose will have trouble breathing, fluid in the lungs, sweating, and muscle twitching.

There are nervous system effects, such as fatigue, irritability, nervousness, and impaired memory. Survivors may have these symptoms six weeks after recovery from other symptoms.

What Is the Treatment for Sarin and VX Poisoning?

There are antidotes for nerve gas poisoning with sarin or VX: atropine and pralidoxime chloride. These antidotes must be injected very soon after poisoning occurs.

People exposed to sarin or VX can protect themselves by quickly moving to an area where there is fresh air. Both sarin and VX are heavier than air and settle in low-lying areas. So if outdoors, a person should move immediately to the highest ground possible. If sarin is released within a building, leave the building immediately.

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