Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Expert Q&A on alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria

By Prof Alastair Hay, Professor of Environmental Toxicology, University of Leeds

An expert on the effects of exposure to chemical warfare agents and the field investigation of alleged chemical warfare incidents answers questions on the Syrian chemical weapons attack.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Q: What are the alleged chemical arsenals that Assad possesses? And the rebels?
A: “We do not know for certain. All the information is based on leaked intelligence assessments. The US, UK and France all claim that some samples they have tested from victims exposed in earlier alleged attacks indicate use of the nerve agent sarin.”

Q: What does the evidence from Syria suggest?
A: “The video evidence with its graphic imagery as well as testimony from doctors suggests that people were exposed to some very potent organophosphate agent. Nerve agents like sarin are organophosphate compounds and extremely potent. There are a range of other nerve agents which all have similar effects on the body. These other agents are more and less toxic than sarin and have varying degrees of persistence in the environment. But even those less toxic are still extremely potent and lethal in small doses.”

Q: What treatment will victims require?
A: “They will need treatment with an antidote like atropine, which may be augmented by another drug, an oxime like praladoxime, which pulls nerve agent off affected sites. Convulsions may be controlled with a sedative like diazepam. Supplementary oxygen will also be needed as many will have had restricted breathing and be unable to inhale sufficient oxygen. Nerve agents inhibit...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.