5 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

Syria is one of the five countries that have not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws production, storage and use of poison gas. The U.S. now believes that President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime has used the chemical agent sarin against its own civilians.

The news isn’t all too shocking. After all, last year Syrian officials did not deny that they possessed such weapons and threatened to use them in the event of “foreign intervention” in Syria’s ongoing conflict with domestic opposition forces.

Despite all this talk about chemical weapons, how much do we really know about them? Here are 5 things you should know about chemical weapons and their use in Syria:

1. The History Of Chemical Weapons

The first recorded use of chemical weapons was by Germany. In 1915, the country used poison gas during the second battle of Ypres, resulting in an estimated 6,000 deaths. Subsequently, both Germany and the Allied Forces used this weapon in World War 1, resulting in an estimated 90,000 deaths.

Since then, Italy has used mustard gas in Ethiopia, Japan has used various gases in China, and the U.S. has used Agent Orange in Vietnam. More recently, Iraq used various gases against Iran and the Kurds in the 1980′s; the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan launched a sarin attack in the Japanese metro in 1995, and now the Assad regime has allegedly attacked its own people in Syria.

2. What Chemical Weapons Do to People

According to Mother Jones:

Chemical weapons wreak havoc on the body, but are not always lethal. Nerve and choking agents hit hardest. When you inhale a choking agent—such as chlorine gas, which was used extensively during World War I—it forces fluid into your lungs, and that basically drowns you. Nerve agents can kill within minutes, and cause twitching and seizures prior to death. Symptoms of mustard gas include skin blistering, burning eyes, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and swelling of the respiratory tract that can seal the victim’s airway. They take 2 to 24 hours to appear and are not usually lethal if adequate health care is available.

3. What Chemical Weapons Are Made of

Outlawing chemical weapons is tricky because many of the ingredients that go into making them are routinely traded internationally. The blue in denim jeans is one example; thiodiglycol is the quickest way to make mustard gas, but if it were banned, we’d have to do without those jeans. Nerve gas is basically bug spray used on people rather than bugs. Outlawing these chemicals, known as pre-cursors, is out of the question because many of them are widely used in manufacturing.

4. The Chemical Agent Allegedly Used in Syria

Sarin gas was the chemical weapon that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allegedly deployed against rebel neighborhoods in Damascus. Sarin is a vicious poison that attacks the nervous system and can kill a person in five to ten minutes.

“Just a fraction of an ounce of this stuff, of sarin, on your skin could potentially be fatal,” said CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an interview Thursday on ‘Piers Morgan Tonight.’ “It can be absorbed across the skin, it can be absorbed into the lungs, across the eyes. It’s pretty gruesome stuff.”

“It is so indiscriminate. It is tasteless. It is odorless. You can’t see it. And, so you don’t even know that you’ve been exposed, necessarily, until you suddenly start to get sick. And then, it starts pretty quickly and can degrade pretty quickly as well,” Gupta explained.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure can result in a myriad of symptoms, including contracted, pinpoint pupils, foaming at the mouth, muscle rigidity, respiratory difficulty and failure, burning eyes, confusion, drowsiness, weakness, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms of nervous system failure.

Scientists in Nazi Germany first synthesized sarin in 1938, intending to use it as a pesticide. After discovering its potency as a human poison, even the Nazis decided it was too vicious a weapon to deploy.

5. Who Still Has Chemical Weapons

The crisis over Syria has raised fresh questions about how that country built its vast arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. Iran, Russia and North Korea have been accused of supplying Syria with materials and expertise. But back in the ’70s and ’80s, Damascus is believed to have received a helping hand  from western business.

As of February 2013, Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia and the United States still have declared chemical weapons stockpiles. This doesn’t count the five countries that have not signed nor ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, or nations that may have secret stockpiles.

An Impetus for War?

It is clear that chemical weapons are ghastly tools of war, but they aren’t Syria’s worst problem. According to experts, at least 100,000 people have died in Syria since the conflict began, and another 2 million are currently refugees. Of those who’ve died, just about 1,500 may have died as a result of chemical weapons.

Is launching military action against Syria the best way to respond to their use?

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani5 years ago

Please go here an sign the petition to stop weapons deliveries by the USA to the “rebels”


Now let's stop "lethal aid" to Syria

“The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria,” the Washington Post reported. Those shipments have combined with “separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.”

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani5 years ago

Cont ... and end:

A United Nations that is no longer corrupted by the five Permanent Members of the Security Council is what is needed.


Am I now a "conspiracy theorist" because I try to spread this information? What are the reasons behind hiding this report and why is the WHO helping to supress such vital information? ... Is it because these crimes against humanity were committed by America?

On which moral grounds does the US think to stand and have the right to even think about attacking and bombarding another nation?

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani5 years ago

Cont ...

Almost nine years later, a joint WHO- Iraqi Ministry of Health Report on cancers and birth defect in Iraq was to be released in November 2012. “It has been delayed repeatedly and now has no release date whatsoever.”

To this date the WHO study remains “classified”.

According to Hans von Sponeck, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations,
“The US government sought to prevent the WHO from surveying areas in southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers.” (quoted in Mozhgan Savabieasfahani Rise of Cancers and Birth Defects in Iraq: World Health Organization Refuses to Release Data, Global Research, July 31, 2013

This tragedy in Iraq reminds one of US Chemical Weapons used in Vietnam. And that the US has failed to acknowledge or pay compensation or provide medical assistance to thousands of deformed children born and still being born due to American military use of Agent Orange throughout the country.

The millions of gallons of this chemical dumped on rural Vietnam were eagerly manufactured and sold to the Pentagon by companies Dupont, Monsanto and others greedy for huge profits.
Given the US record of failing to acknowledge its atrocities in warfare, I fear those mothers in Najaf and other Iraqi cities and towns advised not to attempt the birth of more children will never receive solace or help.

A United Nations that is no longer corrupted by the five

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani5 years ago

I find this very interesting - but maybe I'm the only one?

WHO Refuses to Publish Report on Cancers and Birth Defects in Iraq Caused by Depleted Uranium Ammunition

By Denis Halliday
Global Research, September 13, 2013


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has categorically refused in defiance of its own mandate to share evidence uncovered in Iraq that US military use of Depleted Uranium and other weapons have not only killed many civilians, but continue to result in the birth of deformed babies.

This issue was first brought to light in 2004 in a WHO expert report “on the long-term health of Iraq’s civilian population resulting from depleted uranium (DU) weapons”. This earlier report was “held secret”, namely suppressed by the WHO:

The study by three leading radiation scientists cautioned that children and adults could contract cancer after breathing in dust containing DU, which is radioactive and chemically toxic. But it was blocked from publication by the World Health Organization (WHO), which employed the main author, Dr Keith Baverstock, as a senior radiation advisor. He alleges that it was deliberately suppressed, though this is denied by WHO. (See Rob Edwards, WHO ‘Suppressed’ Scientific Study Into Depleted Uranium Cancer Fears in Iraq, The Sunday Herald, February 24, 2004)


Marianne B.
Marianne B5 years ago

very scary

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani5 years ago

Not wanting to belittle in any way the horrors of chemical weapons ... but I thought I'd share this with the forum participants to think about it. A friend sent me this today:

"We are horrified by the use of chemicals in Syria, but if it can be labeled “research”, and done on animals it is legal, sanctioned, and paid for with tax dollars."

My friend forgot that this is also done on humans in poor countrie (see e.g. Uganda or Nigeria, in the latter Pfizer settled a lawsuit for 75 Mio$).

Something to think about when listening to the today's rethoric of our politicians and the attributes with which they label the Syrian regime despite the fact that more and more evidence surfaces pointing in the direction of the "rebels" as the true culprits.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani5 years ago

To Ggma Sheila (I don't really know how to address you) - thank you for taking the time to explain. I can understand where you're coming from - at times I read articles and feel I have nothing to contribute so I keep quiet too.

My butterfly remark was just meant to be a bit "naughty" - LOL.

Seriously - I had the feeling that there'd be something more behind Spencer's comment and curious.

What surprises me is that truly nobody seems to be concerned about such a powerful weapon like HAARP and its impact on the whole globe. But please don't see this as an attempt to want to drag you into a discussion. I do respect the content of your message ;-).

Stay safe!

GGma Sheila D.
Sheila D5 years ago

Eleonora - I have just noted or signed and noted some articles that brought up some surprising feelings, or some not so nice feelings, or some downright nasty feelings, maybe even conflicting feelings. At these times I have to sort out exactly what I feel and why I feel that way. There have been a few, a very few, that I had no words that would express my horror over what I read or saw. These are all times I have left no comment except to acknowledge to the people that I did read it...even when I couldn't earn 20 butterflies.

While not speaking for everyone, this wil hopefully help to understand a few of us who choose not to comment at times. I also must admit there have been a few times when I read/watched but didn't think there was anything deep in the content so made no comments.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

scary stuff