How to Survive a Sarin Gas Attack

How to Survive a Sarin Gas Attack

by James Walton

In 1938, Gerhard Schrader and his team created a pesticide at the I. G. Farben factory. They had been working to create a nerve agent that would incapacitate an insect's nervous system. However, when Gerhard and his team came into direct contact with their invention, they ended up in the hospital and it took a month for them to recover.

The name “sarin” is made up of letters from the names of the four scientists who created it: chemist and inventor Gerhard Schrader, chemist Otto Ambros, chemist Gerhard Ritter [de], and Heereswaffenamt Hans-Jürgen von der Linde.

It might be disturbing to think that anyone would want their names tied to a killer nerve agent. Remember, though, this breakthrough was meant to help the food system feed more people.

Shrader and his team were eventually approached by the Nazi government and told to stop worrying so much about insects and focus on turning this new invention into a weapon of war. Thus, the nerve agent was born. Sarin is now recognized exclusively as a chemical warfare agent.

In 1993, 50 years after its creation, Sarin (GB) was categorized as a schedule 1 chemical weapon in the Chemical Weapons Convention, which is a treaty and agreement that 192 countries have signed and ratified. It states that such substances have “such lethal or incapacitating toxicity” that they have “little or no use for purposes not prohibited under this convention.”

Simply put, Sarin’s only real use is to incapacitate and kill.

In this article, we will be covering the history of the development of sarin, how it affects the body, how to protect yourself against it, and what medical care is required is exposed.

To learn more about chemical weapons, read our 4 Crucial Steps to Take to Survive a Nerve Agent Attack.


  • 01

    History of Sarin Attacks

  • 02

    Symptoms of Sarin Gas Exposure

  • 03

    How Sarin Gas Affects the Human Body

  • 04

    Preparing to Survive a Sarin Gas Attack

  • 05

    Medical Care After Sarin Gas Exposure

  • 06


History of Sarin Attacks

It's hard to believe, but Sarin has been used in only four attacks. Although the Soviets and Americans stockpiled it in large amounts, neither has ever used it.

Despite there being only four recorded nerve agent attacks, those attacks were brutal. All four involved multiple victims, including children.

March 16, 1988, Halabja

(Image source: Image courtesy of Al Jazeera)

This Kurdish town is in Iraq, about 12 miles from the border with Iran. At the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the people of this town were completely devastated when an Iranian aircraft blew through town. First, people noticed birds falling from the sky, and then people began dropping to the ground and dying. By the time anyone realized it was an outright nerve agent attack, it was too late.

In all, this attack killed a mind-blowing 5,000 people.

March 20, 1995, Tokyo

Ten members of the religious doomsday cult known as Aum Shinrikyo released nerve agent in three separate Tokyo subway lines. This nightmarish terrorist attack killed 12 people and made thousands ill.

One passenger said, “Really, it was like I’d been shot or something. All of a sudden, my breathing completely stopped. Like, if I inhaled anymore, all my guts would come spilling right out of my mouth.”

August 21, 2013, East Ghouta

(Image source: Image courtesy of Middle East Eye)

During the Syrian Civil war, this Damascus suburb was hit by rockets containing a powerful nerve agent. The attack killed 1,429. Nearly a third (426) of those were children. Each side claimed the other initiated the attack. Regardless, the nerve agent killed many people that day.

April 4, 2017, Khan Shaykhun

(Image source: Image courtesy of Civil Rights Defenders)

Although the people in this town had experienced rocket attacks during the Syrian Civil War, this attack was different. The payload this time initiated a deadly nerve agent poisoning that killed 58 people, including 11 children.

Three hundred others experienced symptoms but recovered. This attack came after the Assad regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons were destroyed.

Symptoms of Sarin Gas Exposure

This nerve agent is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Therefore, symptoms could be the first sign of an attack. In Tokyo, the people on the subway had no idea they were under attack until the symptoms appeared.

A person affected by this nerve agent can spread it to someone who might be trying to help them. So, it is vital to know the signs and symptoms. If you’re dealing with liquid sarin, many people could come in contact with it and transfer it to others before anyone knows what’s happening.

(Image source: Image courtesy of NPR)

The CDC lists the following as symptoms of nerve agent poisoning, specifically exposure to sarin gas. This could be through the air, eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, or touching contaminated surfaces.

  • Runny nose

  • Watery eyes

  • Small, pinpoint pupils

  • Eye pain

  • Blurred vision

  • Drooling and excessive sweating

  • Cough

  • Chest tightness

  • Rapid breathing

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or abdominal pain

  • Increased urination

  • Confusion

  • Drowsiness

  • Weakness

  • Headache

  • Slow or fast heart rate

  • Low or high blood pressure

One person having these symptoms would merely seem like an illness or injury. However, two or more people suddenly exhibiting the same symptoms is a telltale sign that sarin may be to blame.

Also, tiny pupils are a distinct symptom. Such micro pupils do not look right and are another tell. Of course, getting a good look at someone’s pupils might put you in unsafe proximity.

How This Nerve Agent Affects the Human Body

Nerve agents all have similar effects on the human body. They prevent the enzyme that functions as an “off switch” from working. When used, muscles tense and then this enzyme signals them to relax. This also happens with various glands.

(Image source: Image courtesy of Business Insider)

When someone is affected by the nerve agent, their muscles and glands are unable to hit that off switch. Then, the person loses control of themselves, convulses, and starts vomiting and having diarrhea.

The diaphragm is a large muscle that helps us breathe, so it is also affected by sarin. Once the diaphragm tenses and does not release, you will no longer be able to get air into your lungs.

This respiratory distress is the deadly part of a sarin attack. The brain dies after about three minutes without oxygen.

Preparing to Survive a Nerve Agent Attack

Preparing to survive a sarin attack is a three-tier process. First, your preparedness should focus on learning to recognize an attack and being situationally aware of what is going on around you. You have to know the signs of a sarin attack to be able to react to it.

Second, limiting exposure is crucial. Once you recognize a sarin attack, you must act to get yourself away from the nerve agent.

The gear you carry to protect yourself from chemical attacks won’t do you any good if you’re unconscious.

Third, once you’ve recognized an attack and moved as far from the affected area as possible, you need to decontaminate properly. This will ensure that you remove any remnants of the nerve agent from your body and clothing.

Let's look at each of these in detail.

Situational Awareness and Symptom Recognition

Study the list of symptoms above. Get to know them. If you see multiple people experiencing these symptoms at the same time, that’s a dead giveaway that you’re facing a sarin attack.

By staying aware, you could see these symptoms from far away. This might give you enough time to get out of harm's way. If you observe these symptoms, especially when accompanied by pinpoint pupils, you should consider getting away from or above the nerve agent.

Once you realize that a situation is unfolding in which multiple people are showing the same types of symptoms, start moving away from those people to limit your nerve agent exposure, which is our next step.

Limiting Exposure

This is the second priority when it comes to surviving a nerve agent attack. The most important thing to remember about limiting nerve agent exposure is that nerve agents are heavier than air.

Escape this deadly gas by getting above it or getting far away from the scene. Since sarin is colorless, tasteless, and odorless, it’s impossible to know where it’s coming from. However, if you head upstairs or to a high spot, you have a chance of getting above it.

If an attack happens outdoors, move as far from the affected area as possible and move uphill or toward higher ground. The nerve agent could wind up settling in a nearby depression and affect anyone nearby.

The better you understand the behavior of this gas, the better you will be able to limit your exposure.

If you want to be certain of the contamination, you might consider DETEHIT CWD-3 Nerve Agent Detection Strips. These detect nerve agents in the air, in food, and on equipment. They work in as little as 2–3 minutes. 

Additional features include:

  • Effectively detect all nerve agents (cholinesterase inhibitors)

  • Packaged in a compact waterproof tube for portability and protection

  • Know whether you've properly decontaminated your PPE before removal

  • 10 individually packaged strips, each enclosed in a mylar sleeve

Another life saving tool to have on your person is a proper CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) rated gas mask and filter. Few options can beat the MIRA Safety CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask and the NBC-77 SOF Filter. The mask features a wide panoramic visor that offers maximum field of view when navigating an escape route inside toxic environments. Additionally, it is constructed from brombutyl rubber, making it highly resistant to CBRN agents like sarin gas. The NBC-77 SOF Filter is a top of the line CBRN-rated filter that can guard against a wide array of chemical agents for a limited time.

Sarin gas, like all nerve agents, are highly skin absorbent, necessitating the need for a full bodied protective solution. The MIRA Safety MOPP-1 CBRN Protective Suit is the perfect tool for the job. Unlike hazmat suits, a MOPP suit offers an activated carbon lining that acts like a human sized filter skin. This means gases like sarin are being filtered out across the entire body.

(Image source: Image courtesy of Blue Line Syndicate Group)

The advanced materials of the suit’s construction allow it to also be semi-permeable, allowing your skin to breathe and trap far less hot air inside. Under prolonged use, the MOPP suit will dramatically decrease the likelihood of dehydration and fatigue when compared to an impermable hazmat suit. Pair this suit with butyl gloves and boots as well as a gas mask for maximum protection.


Finally, let’s look at decontamination. Your ability to decontaminate yourself after exposure to sarin gas is critical to your recovery from such an attack. Nerve agents like sarin gas can get in your hair, on your clothing, and even on your skin. It will affect any part of your body it comes in contact with.

For a robust, uncompromising decontamination solution, MIRA Safety offers the DS-1 Decontamination Shower. This is an industrial grade, portable shower is trusted by professional teams out in the field, as it is able to provide 20 minutes of continuous on-site deep cleansing of CBRN residue on clothing and skin.

Sarin attacks aren’t going to happen in your home but in areas with many people. So, it’s best to be prepared for a sarin attack when you’re around lots of people. Let's look at some of the things you can carry to be more prepared for such a nerve agent attack.

Extra Clothes

Having extra clothes can be very helpful because decontamination can be achieved with a soapy shower. Use lots of soap and water.

After exposure to sarin is not a time to consider modesty. You need to get out of those clothes and get yourself cleaned off however and wherever that is a possibility. Extra clothes packed in a car or bag will give you the option of putting on clean clothes after decontamination.

The clothes you were wearing should be tied up in multiple bags or locked in a storage container until they can be disposed of properly. The main goal is to prevent contamination of other people, objects, and spaces.

Decontamination Preps

The MIRA Safety MDG-1 Personal CBRN Decontamination Glove is a small decontaminating prep that anyone who is concerned about sarin could easily use to decontaminate themselves in the event of a nerve agent poisoning.

(Image source: Image courtesy of Blue Line Syndicate Group)

  • Decontaminates exposed skin, equipment, and accessories, with up to 90% decontamination efficiency in minutes

  • Uses a nontoxic, noncorrosive, nonflammable, ultra-fine powder/clay compound for maximum safety and adsorption of toxins

  • Extremely compact and lightweight design allows for easy transportation

This glove comes in a small packet and weighs just 5 ounces. It’s a great prep to store in a pouch or even a pocket if you’re in a crowded area or one that might be a potential target for a nerve agent poisoning.

RSDL Wipes

RSDL is another rapid decontamination prep. RSDL stands for Reactive Skin Decontamination Lotion. This product is lightweight and slim. It could fit into the pocket of almost any pair of pants.

The product is applied to skin that has been exposed to any number of nerve agents and toxins. RSDL works on the following threats:

  • Chemical warfare agents: Tabun, Sarin, Soman, Cyclohexyl sarin, VR, VX, mustard gas, and T-2 Toxin

  • Organophosphate-based toxic chemicals: Malathion, Parathion, Paraoxon, Paraoxon-methyl, Malaoxon

At the moment of contamination or suspected contamination, thepackage can be torn open and applied to the skin. It can either be left on the skin or rinsed off when time allows.

Medical Care After Sarin Gas Exposure

We have discussed a number of methods to limit your exposure to sarin and to decontaminate your body quickly following an attack. However, if you have been exposed to a large amount of sarin, the very worst symptoms could affect you or the people you love.

(Image source: Image courtesy of Live Science)

Such symptoms include the following:

  • Convulsions

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Paralysis

  • Respiratory failure leading to death

Hospitals and medical facilities have antidotes for dangerous nerve agents and toxins. Your life might depend on receiving this kind of help if you’re exposed to a high concentration of a nerve agent.

That’s why it’s important to be prepared to recognize potential exposure, remove yourself from it, and decontaminate. However, you should still seek medical treatment. There is really no way to measure your personal exposure outside of your symptoms.


While the likelihood of a nerve agent poisoning is relatively low, should it happen to anyone, it would be truly devastating and very likely to be fatal. 

Simply put, you must know the process. You have to understand that such attacks don’t come with any warning. Those who haven’t studied the effects of sarin gas won’t recognize what’s happening. There will be mass confusion and panic, like in most emergencies.

Sarin gas is designed to kill and only to kill as it has no commercial application. There will always be evil people with evil intentions and the only control we have in these situations is how much prep work we invested in our survival ahead of time.

Stay prepared, informed, and most importantly, aware.