Thursday, May 9, 2013

This is how sarin kills

A shepherd looks over a valley in Halabja, Iraq that had been the site of a chemical weapons attack in 1988. (Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images). 

The Syrian military controls a large stockpile of the chemical weapon sarin, and for the duration of the country’s now two-year conflict, the world has been watching warily for that deadly agent’s release.  Last week, the Obama administration revealed it had intelligence suggesting that some Syrians had been exposed to the chemical, although it’s still not clear exactly what happened.

Sarin was first developed in Nazi Germany and later used by Saddam Hussein’s forces against Iraqi Kurdish civilians. But what does it actually do to those exposed to it? The Atlantic’s James Hamblin takes a look at the compound and its history. He also explains, in medical detail, how it can turn our own nervous system against us:

Sarin is unique in potency but not in mechanism. There are other drugs, pesticides, and plants that work the same way. They are called cholinesterase inhibitors.
For the rest of the story:

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