Ghouta, Syria: People presenting with chemical attack symptoms

Monday, February 26, 2018

Over the weekend, neutral medical facilities in Ghouta, Syria admitted patients presenting with symptoms indicative of a chlorine chemical attack. How the chemical gas entered the Ghouta battlefield is unknown with several nations, rebel forces, and terror groups operating in the region.

Since intelligence has not definitively determined the group responsible for this weekend’s chlorine attack, no punitive actions have been taken. The number of casualties is still being developed as responders gain access to the dispersal site. United Nations (UN) investigators report intercepting 40 packages from North Korea with supplies capable of producing chemical or biological weapons between 2013 and 2017. UN investigators confirm suspected Syrian production facilities have North Korean scientists and engineers deployed.

The Geneva Convention prohibit the use of chemical or biological weapons and the use is considered a War Crime. During April 2017, the Syrian military was accused of dropping the neurotoxin sarin on civilian populations. Sarin is created and stored as a liquid but becomes a gas when exposed to air.

Following the April 2017 sarin attack, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles targeting Shayrat Airbase where the sarin-laden aircraft was launched. All 59 missiles hit the base within 5 minutes with minimal damage. The Tomahawk attack was an extension of President Barack Obama’s ‘line in the sand’ policy towards Syria’s chemical and biological weapons capability.

Like sarin, chlorine gas enters through the lungs and skin with extremely low concentrations complicating emergency response, first responders requiring fully contained bio-hazardous protective equipment. Top level biohazard suits are expensive, have time consuming suit up procedures, and cumbersome to operate in. Without the protective equipment, emergency personnel could become exposed, diminishing their response capacity.

Mild-exposure will cause irritated skin and coughing progressing to rashes with labored breathing. Extensive exposure symptoms present as 2nd or 3rd degree skin burns, often described as blistering then melting away, respiratory hemorrhaging, seizures, and comas. Chlorine has an affinity for calcium found in bone pushing the chemical deeper into the body.

Treatment of any biological or chemical exposure, including sarin and chlorine gas, is immediately washing the patient with water, aid breathing, and managing pain. Before admittance a chemical or biological weapons patient must undergo extensive decontamination with washing and scrubbing preventing hospital contamination.