Sarin, nerve agent used in chemical warfare; its chemical name is isopropyl methyl phosphonofluoridate. A colorless liquid that gives off no odor as it vaporizes, sarin is a highly toxic compound in both its liquid and vapor state. It attacks the central nervous system, causing death minutes after exposure. Sarin dissipates quickly so its persistence in the environment is low; it can be made more persistent through the addition of certain oils or petroleum products. Delivery systems include ballistic and cruise missiles, crude canisters, aircraft-delivered bombs, artillery shells, and land mines. The organophosphate nerve agents tabun, sarin, soman, and cyclosarin are among the most toxic chemical warfare agents known. See also Chemical and Biological Warfare.
Sarin was developed in Nazi Germany in 1938. Its name is derived from the names of its inventors: Schrader, Ambrose, Rüdiger, and van der Linde. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) adopted it as a standard chemical warfare agent in the early 1950s. Iran, North Korea, Syria, and possibly Libya are believed to hold stocks of sarin. Iraq used it in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) and had large stocks available during the Persian Gulf War (1991). The Japanese Aum Shinrikyo religious sect used sarin in the only known terrorist acts involving a chemical weapon. The sect released sarin in Matsumoto, Japan, in 1994, killing 7 people, and on the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 12 and injuring 5,500.
Like other nerve agents, sarin kills by paralyzing muscles so that a person cannot breathe. It also affects glands that control tears, sweat, and other body secretions. Sarin enters the body by inhalation, ingestion, and through the eyes and skin. Symptoms begin with watery eyes, drooling, and excessive sweating, and then rapidly progress to difficulty in breathing, dimness of vision, nausea, vomiting, twitching, and headache. Ultimately the victim will become comatose and suffocate as a consequence of convulsive spasms. Immediate treatment is decontamination by removing clothing and flushing eyes and skin with water.