Were chemical weapons used in Syria?

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  • Published: Sep 1, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Raman / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / X-ray Spectrometry / MRI Spectroscopy / Base Peak / Infrared Spectroscopy / Chemometrics & Informatics / NMR Knowledge Base / Atomic

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Now that the chemical weapons inspectors have returned from Syria to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, they will begin to examine all of the evidence that they collected before sending the samples to designated labs for analysis. One of the key tests that will be used is mass spectrometry, in the form of GC/MS and LC/MS, which will look for residues of chemical weapons in the soil, debris, blood and other materials that were sampled.

While the scientific tests will screen for all chemical weapons, there is a strong suspicion among those in the know that the specific chemical weapon sarin was used in attacks in Damascus on 21st August, claiming more than 1500 lives. If so, the mass spec analysis will seek to identify the principal degradation product of sarin which is isopropyl methylphosphonic acid (IMPA). Sarin decomposes quickly but IMPA can persist in the environment and in blood for up to 25 days or so, giving plenty of time for its detection.

On past experience, not all samples will test positive for sarin but the presence of IMPA in some will be sufficient to conclude that sarin had been released in the affected parts of the Syrian capital. What comes next is for the politicians, not the scientists, to contemplate.

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