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Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

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  • Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

    Whilst the main target(s) for this attack, Sergei Skripal and his daughter, obviously remain seriously ill we are getting very little information regarding what this nerve agent actually does to its victims.

    DS Bailey, one of the first responders on the scene of the attack, remains seriously ill despite now being able to talk and his prognosis is described as "unclear." The Home Office has said it knows what kind of nerve agent was used, but has refused to disclose the information. I find this lack of information almost as worrying as the attack itself. It is obviously a very sophisticated and deadly substance that was used and this does raise concerns over its potential as a terrorist weapon targeting many people, not just a few.

    But who is behind this particular attack? Given Mr Skripal's history the obvious suspects are the Russians. But why would they suddenly want to kill him now, many years after they released him as part of a swap deal with the West? Surely they picked him clean whilst he was in their custody of anything relevant that he knew and if they considered him to still be a threat, or simply wanted revenge, they would have arranged for him to have "disappeared."

    If not the Russians, who else could it be? It might possibly be an agent or ex-agent, from either side acting alone on a personal grudge but why go to the trouble of deploying such an alarming, high profile chemical weapon when a bullet would have done the job with a lot less fuss. It appears that, for whatever reason, the perpetrator wanted to gain maximum publicity.

    All in all, an intriguing and very worrying incident.
    John

    "A hundredth of a second here, a hundredth of a second there � even if you put them end to end, they still only add up to one, two, perhaps three seconds, snatched from eternity." ~ Robert Doisneau

  • #2
    Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

    I'm not really sure why you are worried that the type of nerve agent hasn't been disclosed. After all, I'm not sure what you would do with the information if you had it. I can quite understand why the information has been kept under wraps as it possibly says something about it's origin, and the politicians and secret services don't want all and sundry second guessing the perpetrators. That could do a lot of harm to the investigation and is possibly going to need a fair bit of diplomacy.

    I did hear a commentator on the beeb saying that the nerve agents affect the transmission of nerve impulses to the lungs, among other systems, and so therefore the victim would have difficulty breathing.

    I agree with you though, it is concerning that such events should take place on British soil. Recently of course we had the Litvinenko killing, and before that Georgi Markov, who was slain by a jab from an umbrella which injected a ricin loaded ball.
    Ian

    (I can never think of anything witty to say when under pressure!)

    GH2, G50, various m4/3rds lenses, Fuji X-T1 system

    My website: www.icimaging.co.uk

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    • #3
      Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

      Originally posted by Rawcoll View Post
      I'm not really sure why you are worried that the type of nerve agent hasn't been disclosed.
      It would be nice to know if it's a liquid or solid and how it can injure us. By skin contact, by breathing the vapour, or what? Does it slowly evaporate and disperse or could there be bits of it lying around in crevices for years?

      These facts are all relevant to people who want to take reasonable precautions and they don't give away any 'sensitive' information.

      Latest news headline on BBC "The substance was found in one part of Zizzi in Salisbury". That suggests that it is the sort of thing that could be around for some time.
      Mike
      visit my Natural History Photos website:
      http://www.botanicdesign.co.uk/Natur...story/home.htm

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      • #4
        Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

        This is pretty technical by Wikipedia's standards, but comprehensive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerve_agent

        This is presented more for a non-technical audience, but covers the issues you've raised, and it comes from a usually-relaible source and again it seems correct IMHO: http://theconversation.com/nerve-age...hey-work-93079
        Regards,
        Mark

        ------------------------------
        http://www.microcontrast.com
        Too much Oly gear.
        Panasonic GM5, 12-32, 12-35, 15. Laowa 7.5.
        Assorted legacy lenses, plus a Fuji X70 & a Sony A7S.

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        • #5
          Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

          The old, broad-spectum insectides were oganophosphates, which act in just this way. Some are more toxic that others. Malathion is one which gardeners could use, before it was banned. Methly and ethyl parathion were widely used as insecticides. The latter is probably the most toxic chemical I ever used in the lab and I had to chemically denature it before disposal.

          Harold
          The body is willing but the mind is weak.

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          • #6
            Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

            That's an interesting article Mark, thanks for posting.

            Interesting though it may be, it still begs the question, how would you go about your life differently if you know what it's characteristics are? You can either stay at home and never go out, or you can trust those that know about these things to hunt it down and eradicate it. After all, they are there to give public protection. The one big advantage in Litvinenko's case was that radioactivity was used, and having realised that was the case, was easy to check for. Mind you, I've no idea what cunning devices these chemists have in their armoury!

            Life is full of risks, we've just got to get on with things.
            Ian

            (I can never think of anything witty to say when under pressure!)

            GH2, G50, various m4/3rds lenses, Fuji X-T1 system

            My website: www.icimaging.co.uk

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

              Back in the day I was employed by the Health Protection Agency (later Public Health England) and as a microbiologist had a variety of training mainly in the biological area, although it did include some basic stuff on nuclear, radiological and chemical.
              It involved visits to Porton Down, dressing up in hazchem suits and all sorts of fun stuff.

              It was all raised to a much higher level in preparation for the 2012 Olympics and fortunately it was all un-necessary at the time, although it's the legacy of that training & associated exercises and establishment of procedures and communication channels that provides the public safety response we see in action now.

              I've got the utmost respect for those guys and girls you see hopping round in yellow plastic bags on the TV. Five minutes in one of those in a real event and I guarantee most of us here would be crying for our Mummies...
              Regards,
              Mark

              ------------------------------
              http://www.microcontrast.com
              Too much Oly gear.
              Panasonic GM5, 12-32, 12-35, 15. Laowa 7.5.
              Assorted legacy lenses, plus a Fuji X70 & a Sony A7S.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

                Originally posted by drmarkf View Post
                I've got the utmost respect for those guys and girls you see hopping round in yellow plastic bags on the TV. Five minutes in one of those in a real event and I guarantee most of us here would be crying for our Mummies...
                Back in the early days of NBC protection, I set up a calibration facility to test the effectiveness of the masks, etc..

                It's the most uncomfortable "dressing up" I've ever done...
                Graham

                We often repeat the mistakes we most enjoy...

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                • #9
                  Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

                  Originally posted by drmarkf View Post
                  Back in the day I was employed by the Health Protection Agency (later Public Health England)

                  I've got the utmost respect for those guys and girls you see hopping round in yellow plastic bags on the TV. Five minutes in one of those in a real event and I guarantee most of us here would be crying for our Mummies...
                  Likewise, but on the radiological side.
                  Ian

                  (I can never think of anything witty to say when under pressure!)

                  GH2, G50, various m4/3rds lenses, Fuji X-T1 system

                  My website: www.icimaging.co.uk

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

                    If the nerve agent was imported as suspected, how did it get through checks at airports (surface carriage would be easier). It would need appropriate packaging to protect the mule, in a bag inside the body possibly (on that note, the human body is actually a doughnut, so the passage from mouth to anus is in fact an external surface).

                    What's the decay mechanism, if any and if the life can be expressed as a half life how long until it becomes safe in the streets, the ambulance. How many ppm does it have to fall to become ineffective.

                    (Let's assume it's weapon grade material manufactured by a state, not by an individual in their shed.)
                    Steve

                    on flickr

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                    • #11
                      Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

                      And now the people who were in that restaurant and pub are being told to wash everything http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43362673

                      Don't panic .... it's only a week after the event!
                      Andy
                      bengeo.com

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                      • #12
                        Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

                        Prof Dame Sally classifies the risk as low, great scientific language!
                        Steve

                        on flickr

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                        • #13
                          Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

                          Life has been a bit bizarre here in Salisbury since "the unpleasantness". Of course, everybody is an expert all of a sudden, and it is interesting to see the tiniest bit of leaked information suddenly becoming gospel truth. At least most of the media appear to have got bored and gone home. We haven't even had TV helicopters flying over for a couple of days.

                          The advice to wash everything a week after the event is really rather strange, when it seems to me that there are other far greater risks. For instance, the victims were found on a bench in a public area. The area is still cordoned off, which makes perfect sense. But it is a public open space with a river going through it, where there are loads of ducks (which are normally well fed by passers-by) and apparently a fairly vibrant rat population. Ducks and rats are no respecter of police cordons so they could be happily spreading traces of toxin all over the place. I doubt anyone has told them they need to wash.

                          John

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                          • #14
                            Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

                            Originally posted by Ricoh View Post
                            Prof Dame Sally classifies the risk as low, great scientific language!
                            So how else would you explain it to the general public? The risk is low, clearly, as no-one else has been affected, and the recommendation to wash clothes is a precautionary measure.

                            I think it is important to keep the public informed and on your side, but it seems to me that one is damned, whatever one says!

                            Sorry if I'm sounding a bit irascible, but I've been on the 'other side' of this kind of situation.

                            Ian
                            Ian

                            (I can never think of anything witty to say when under pressure!)

                            GH2, G50, various m4/3rds lenses, Fuji X-T1 system

                            My website: www.icimaging.co.uk

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Salisbury nerve agent - just what the hell is that stuff?

                              Originally posted by Bikie John View Post
                              Life has been a bit bizarre here in Salisbury since "the unpleasantness". Of course, everybody is an expert all of a sudden, and it is interesting to see the tiniest bit of leaked information suddenly becoming gospel truth. At least most of the media appear to have got bored and gone home. We haven't even had TV helicopters flying over for a couple of days.

                              The advice to wash everything a week after the event is really rather strange, when it seems to me that there are other far greater risks. For instance, the victims were found on a bench in a public area. The area is still cordoned off, which makes perfect sense. But it is a public open space with a river going through it, where there are loads of ducks (which are normally well fed by passers-by) and apparently a fairly vibrant rat population. Ducks and rats are no respecter of police cordons so they could be happily spreading traces of toxin all over the place. I doubt anyone has told them they need to wash.

                              John
                              What a pleasant thought John. Anecdotally most humans live within a few metres of a rat. I'll sleep well tonight!
                              Steve

                              on flickr

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