Friday 13 September 2013

Why The UN Report On Chemical Weapons In Syria Isn't Just About August 21st

It's being widely reported that the UN report on the August 21st alleged chemical attack in Damascus may be published on Monday, if not sooner, with claims that "it will provide a strong circumstantial case -- based on an examination of spent rocket casings, ammunition, and laboratory tests of soil, blood, and urine samples -- that points strongly in the direction of Syrian government culpability."

Those of you have been following the blog for the past few weeks will already know I've been spending a lot of time looking at "spent rocket casings", and that the UN has closely examined the munition I've dubbed the UMLACA (Unidentified Munition Linked to Alleged Chemical Attacks).  The evidence I've gathered seems to point towards the government being responsible for the use of these munitions, with evidence I've examined pointing towards the opposition being responsible seeming very weak.  If the UN report confirms these are chemical munitions, then it seems almost certain the government were responsible for firing them.  

What many people aren't aware of is that the same munitions are linked to at least one previous chemical attack.  Earlier on August 5th, two areas of Damascus, Douma and Adra, were hit by an alleged chemical attack, with around 400 victims reported injured in Douma, and at least a couple of dozen in Adra.  I've collected videos from the attack here, and the following video with English subtitles has one of the victims explaining what happen in Adra

There were also three other videos posted online showing the munition locals claim were used in Adra (warning - dead and dying animals in the first video)

It seems clear that these are the same type of munition recovered from the August 21st attack in Eastern Ghouta, and examined by the UN.  It would seem that rather than being a freak incident, the August 21st attack was the second to occur in Damascus within 3 weeks.  It's also worth noting this video, originally posted online on June 11th, showing the remains of the same munition, with claims it was a "chemical rocket"

If the UN report does point towards these munitions being used to deliver the chemical agent, then it seems to strongly suggest the August 5th attack was also a chemical attack using the same type of munition, and might put previous alleged chemical attacks in the Damascus area in a new light.

More posted on the subject of the August 21st attacks can be found here, and other posts on chemical weapons and Syria, including extremely informative interviews with chemical weapon specialists, can be found here.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at


  1. There's no doubt that this munition is derived from an American one designed to be an FAE and that it is capable of being so used, and, where impact zone is scorched and blasted, has been.

    It's also very obvious that it's equally capable of being used to deliver poison gas, of whatever kind, because in both cases the requirement is exactly the same: the dispersal of a cloud of droplets just above ground level, which then evaporate to form a cloud.

    Sarin disperses easily and is also degraded by UV light, so it would obviously be more effective in hot weather with clear skies, to conduct sarin attacks by night.

    The FAEs will work at any time, but there might be times, such as around dawn, when falling dew would affect the way the fuel cloud behaved before ignition.

    Whatever the politics, Russian forces are well-equipped to dismantle chemical weapons and have portable incinerators and the like, capable of dealing with mustard gas as well as sarin.

    Sarin may be the deadlier weapon, when fresh, but the disposal nightmare will be the mustard gas and any VX, because it will remain toxic for years.

    Nearly all the relevant US Army facilities and equipment are in Colorado, which is in the middle of an extreme weather event as I write.

    So, the Russians can do the job, and it's not a job I'd compete for, so it might be best to give them every encouragement, even if toppling Assad is not their priority.

    However, if Mr Putin gets evidence from his own troops to the effect that Assad was responsible for what happened, Russian support for the regime may be shaken. The "European" advisors seen in the rocket launch video might be well advised to disappear.

    There is a glimmer of light and it might be the end of the tunnel rather than an approaching train.

  2. You know what doesn't smell like sulfur? [for those that don't know what I'm talking about, watch the first video in the post, nothing too graphic] Sarin, that's what.

    Some of these videos are hurting their case more than they imagine.

    1. The payload may not be pure Sarin.

    2. You are willing to believe everything, friend, as long as it fits what you WISH happened. You don't care about what REALLY happened.

      This is just personal ambition from you, at this point.

  3. Natural Gas odor?
    The first video is suspicious.
    And if the UN rapport on Monday doesn't mention any FAE's, then I know enough.

    1. Rachel,

      4) "...Natural Gas odor?
      The first video is suspicious.
      And if the UN rapport on Monday doesn't mention any FAE's, then I know enough. ..."

      To be honest, I am studying chemical warfare for quite a few years now. To say that if one report doesn't mention something, one knows enough, is surely worth reconsidering.
      Ad: "natural gas odor".
      Purified natural gas is, as highly pure Sarin, near odorless. What most people know as the "gas odor" are in fact odoriferous taggants used to warn people in the case of a leak, that is, if a volatile odorless hydrocarbon leaks, so that the people around are alarmed by the smell.
      Now, just hypotheticaly, let's assume the agent wasn't Sarin/GB, but lets say, S-Isobutyl methylphosphonothiolfluoridate. A derivative of Sarin, where the -O-isopropyl radical is replaced by an -S-isobutyl. This is a whole series of G-like-agents developped by the Soviets in the 1970s-1980s timeframe. They are known to be more toxic than Sarin and even less persistent. Now would that make a difference, if the nerve agent wasn't Sarin but lets say some other G-agent or one of soviet "cousins" thereof?
      What if it was Sarin, impure with byproducts or "masked" by an odor "taggant"?

      There is quite a lot of talk around about how it could be a salvo of FAE rockets impacting in eastern Ghouta, suffocating people, how it couldn't be a chemical warfare agent because people on the ground didn't quite uniformly report a smell to it like a manual from the 1950s, and so on.
      I for my part don't know what the UN/OPCW dossier on the 21/08/2013 incident contains, what findings we will be shown, as do 99+ % of the rest of people.

      Enough said, chemistry, toxicology, offensive/defensive use of and protection from CW agents isn't a straightforward stuff one can grasp in its entirety within a couple of weeks or a year for that part.
      Let's just wait until the Report is out and if the russian intelligence has some substancial findigs disputing it.


    2. Natural Gas is odourless.

      An odour is deliberately added to aid detection in the event of a leak.

  4. There has been several industrial accidents involving Ethylene Oxide over the years but no one died. In one case, 900 gallons of EO leaked and poisoned 22 workers, they suffered severe vomiting but all recovered.

    “In addition, Thiess [13] summarizes an incident where 22 workers were overcome from a 900-gallon release of EO through a ruptured valve. In an attempt to alleviate the danger as quickly as possible, there was a disregard to donning of any respiratory protection, thus there was direct acute exposure. The durations of these exposures were not reported in detail, but the actions and descriptions during the event indicate significant exposure.

    These included the following specific examples: attempts by a worker to close the main valve which resulted in his being drenched by a thick jet of liquid EO that covered his head and hands; actions of a foreman when removing several injured workers; actions of a fireman who stood for about 10 minutes near the spray from the rupture.

    The principle symptoms of acute EO exposure demonstrated were nausea and periodic vomiting (all 22 workers), that commenced a short time after first exposure and persisted for hours and was characterized for some as very severe vomiting.”


    "Thiess [13] reports on another 19 illnesses from industrial accidents from 1956 to 1962. He states: “So far according to our knowledge there have been no cases reported of fatalities after inhalation of pure ethylene oxide.”"

    Snellings, W.M., Nachreiner, D.J., and Pottenger, L.H., 2011, Ethylene Oxide: Acute Four-Hour and One-Hour Inhalation Toxicity Testing in Rats: Journal of Toxicology, v. 2011, doi: 10.1155/2011/910180.

    THIESS, A.M., 1963, Observations On Injuries To Health Caused By The Effect Of Ethylene Oxide: Archiv für Toxikologie, v. 20, p. 127–140.

    1. And a vapor cloud EO while you sleep? EO is heavier than air.

      From patent Gelled Fuel-Air Explosive.
      A concentration of 50 ppm [90 mg/m3] of ethylene oxide in the air may have harmful effects on one breathing the air for about 8 hours.

      90mg/m3! what about 900 ppm?

    2. Laboratory animals exposed to lethal levels of Ethylene Oxide generally die 1 to 3 days after EO exposure, due to delayed systemic toxicity and lung damage; the precise mechanism is not fully understood. There was no acute deaths (Snellings et al., 2011).

      "For the majority of the animals, death occurred within 3 days following the single exposure. Histopathology on the lungs revealed congestion, hemorrhage, and edema." (Snellings et al., 2011)

      Theoretically fatally poisoned humans would not die immediately, acute symptoms are non-fatal. If EO was involved, deaths would have begun a day later via progressive lung damage.

      Also, EO causes chemical burns; severe blistering and skin necrosis similar to sulfur mustard, abet at high concentrations. This was not observed.

      "Irritant contact dermatitis (non-allergic) is characterized by erythema and unilocular bullae, resulting from epithelial necrosis. (Ethylene Oxide Dermatitis)"

      Lastly, Ethylene Oxide boils at 10.7 Celsius (Sarin boils at 158 Celsius). EO ia a gas at room temperature and is transported in gas bottles. The rockets likely carried a liquid.

      EO gas bottles:

      Snellings, W.M., Nachreiner, D.J., and Pottenger, L.H., 2011, Ethylene Oxide: Acute Four-Hour and One-Hour Inhalation Toxicity Testing in Rats: Journal of Toxicology, v. 2011, doi: 10.1155/2011/910180.

      Karacalar, A., and Karacalar, S.A., 2000, Chemical burns due to blood pressure cuff sterilized with ethylene oxide: Burns, v. 26, no. 8, p. 760–763.

  5. @bbrhuft the EO can cause the same effects which we saw on the victims on Syria ( who was a live ) but the dead ppl they could be dead because of chemical or by the Pressure of the FAE both can leave no real injury on outside the body this need Anatomy to the bodies to know what killed them and how,

    1. Agree

      Backgrounder on Russian Fuel Air Explosives ("Vacuum Bombs")

    2. The pressure required to cause fatal lung damage (the mechanism fuel air explosions kill) is 30-40 Pounds per Square Inch (Stewart 2008, page 25).

      However, an explosion that causes 20 Pounds per Square Inch of pressure, will destroyed heavily fortified buildings with wind speeds exceeding 502 mph (Zipf Jr. & Cashdollar 2007, page 1).

      Buildings were left standing, so a fuel air explosion did not occur. As your link states, a fuel air explosion ... "In its destructive capability, it is comparable to low-yield nuclear munitions."

      Stewart C., 2008 Blast Injuries ”True Weapons of Mass Destruction" MSc Thesis, University of Oklahoma, Tulsa.

      Zipf Jr., R.K., & Cashdollar K.L., 2007. "Explosions and Refuge Chambers NIOSH-125."

    3. i dont get your idea!!!

      are u saying that you did not see buildings or walls destroyed in the videos??!!

      most of the videos there is a Destruction or you mean you should see the hole city on the ground to notice that!!

    4. The damage was very modest, it was not a FE weapon, just a few breeze blocks knocked over. A FE bomb would cause far greater destruction. The FE bomb is the most powerful conventional weapon, it causes a blast wave that travels faster than the speed of sound, destroying strongly built reinforced concrete structures and it kills people by destroying their internal organs.

      Here's what a real FE bomb does to a building:

      I think the claims is the FE rockets failed to detonate and the unburnt fuel (Ethylene Oxide) caused the deaths.

      But as I have explained with supporting scientific articles, EO causes delayed death 1 to 3 days after exposure, it does not kill immediately. And people have survived EO literally pouring on their head.

    5. The Blu96 is a 2000lb class weapon and dwarfs the size of the weapon we are looking at. The house would be classified as a very soft target (PR video). If that were a truly strongly built, solid wall, reinforced concrete structure (no windows/steel angled reinforced doors) it would not do much more then blow the dust off it and at best maybe cause a few cracks in the reinforced concrete walls.

  6. To adress some of the points raised here in the discussion.

    1) "...Sarin disperses easily and is also degraded by UV light, so it would obviously be more effective in hot weather with clear skies, to conduct sarin attacks by night. .."

    Please do provide some hard data showing photolytic lability of Sarin or any other G-agent (preferably the Gs of the Sarin type, i.e. O-Alkyl alkanephosphonicflouridates). To my knowledge, this subgroup of the G agents are of rather low hydrolytic stability, being relatively easily decomposed by water depending on pH, temperature etc. Any appreciable photolysis would require UV irradiation of an intensity that is not to be found anywhere on the Earth naturally, not even under the "ozone hole".
    What you are referring to are the optimal meteorological conditions for the use of any volatile CW agents, be it volatile nerve agents or others (phosgene, hydrogen cyanide etc. pp.).

    2) "...The FAEs will work at any time, but there might be times, such as around dawn, when falling dew would affect the way the fuel cloud behaved before ignition. ..."

    Are you trying to suggest the CWs can be used effectively only under favourable meteorological conditions? That might have been the case in 1915. In fact, modern (i.e.: post-WW2) CW systems can be deployed effectively under any met. conditions, given various agents and delivery systems are available and the "user" has enough technical background to deploy these accordingly to the conditions in the target area.

  7. 3) "...You know what doesn't smell like sulfur? [for those that don't know what I'm talking about, watch the first video in the post, nothing too graphic] Sarin, that's what. ..."

    I have no idea whether the man in that video was in fact attacked by Sarin or any other agent. However, you cannot dismiss a possible/an alleged CW attack only and simple by an incongruence of some organoleptic (here smell) qualities percieved by people on the ground. Smell is anything but certainly NOT a reasonable identifier of a particular CW agent.
    Yes, one of the central messages from the NBRC defense training is, that if one smells any suspicious odor in the field, one has to assume the worst case scenario possible and to put on the PPE at once, for better being safe than sorry. BUT there are two things to remeber. a) Most CW agents are technical quality chemicals, often mixed with solvents, stabilisiers, impurities from the synthesis and sometimes deliberately mixed with strongly smelling substances in order to mask a characteristic smell. The German Army was doing this back in the WW1: they used an addition of nitrobenzene to their mustard fill not only to lower the freezing point of the mustard, but also to disguise its tell-tale smell.
    b) the perception of smell is, like many others, a subjective one. Most people would positively identify vinegar from gasoline, simply because they are everyday items.
    Now please consider that most people (fortunately) didn't have had a sniff tests of what CW agents smell like. And when it comes to such toxic ones as the nerve agents, one cannot simply routinely smell them on a daily basis to become intimately familiar with their odor notes; basicaly people should never be exposed to these chemicals. So even if 3,000+ people in one occasion did smell something, they have only a limited possibility to compare that unusual smell to something they know on a daily basis.
    Plus, the agent seems to have been a nerve agent, a neurotoxic substance. It could easily blurr any perceptions during and after the exposition by simply causing central neuroexcitotoxicity.

  8. Come on.
    Some sulfur containing compounds such as hydrogen sulfide or low-mid alkyl thiols do smell like "rotten eggs" (the bigger the alkyl, the more "skunk-like" the odor).
    Elemental sulfur as such, or burning sulfur has a distinctly different odor, more choking and kind of stinging.

  9. Elemental sulfur does not smell like rotten eggs. And burning sulfur has a very different smell than rotten eggs.

  10. When people refer to "sulfur smell" they almost always mean hydrogen sulfide, no mystery here.

  11. The foam around the mouths of the victims is white.
    If it was a sarin nerve gas attack as claimed the foam should be yellow as stated by international experts.

  12. 1. There is lots of scientific data you can ref on blast effects, PSI etc but that is not necessarily how things work in the real world. Military Fuel Air Explosives type weapons are really only effective against targets in relatively open terrain that are of light to medium construction. Most of what you read about FAE weapons is PR like "In its destructive capability, it is comparable to low-yield nuclear munitions" lol. Show me just one heavily fortified/constructed target that has been destroyed by the type of FAE weapons we are talking about.
    2. Yes people can die from blast pressure alone but I have never seen any large scale casualty events where blast was solely responsible for the deaths. The HUMAN body can handle pure blast induced pressures much better then folks think. The vast majority of people that are killed in an explosive event die from some combination of the following; primary fragmentation, secondary fragmentation, blunt trauma, thermal effects, or blast pressures high enough to separate meat/bones from the human body. Show me some cases where lots of folks died from blast pressures only and the bodies did not have other obvious indicators of a blast induced death such as; body parts missing (arms, legs, head, etc), body full of holes, severe tissues damage, burnt tissue, etc.

    1. jody, the normal Explosives by TNT or C4 effect is not the same with the FAE why:

      the TNT or C4 damages is in the central and have a secondary effect that human body can handle, but the FAE damage the central area but do more damage with the secondary effect, when you are not close enough to the central area of the FAE then you will be like a toy by the first blast wave and the reverse vacuum wave this can cause a heavy damage to the internal organs.

      that's why they use it against bunkers,caves and tunnels, it can not destroy the bunkers and caves but can kill who is inside it, the effect will be more deadly in the close circles to the central and will be less on far

      also ppl can die direct or after some time depending on the injuryو Eardrum and the eyes will be the easy target to the FAE pressure waves then the Lungs, heart and others but the skin and bones will not be Affected

      If you're close to a real TNT bomb you can really notice how its squeezing you hardly even if you are not so close so how if the explosion is a FAE

    2. The main reason FAE weapons can cause somewhat more stand alone damage to the human body then conventional high explosive is because FAE produces a longer duration blast impulse wave phase for a set PSI number then conventional high explosives.
      Don't confuse traditional FAE warhead (ethylene/propylene oxide) blast effects with Thermobaric warhead blast effects. The traditional FAE weapons are designed to function best in non- confined space environment (the more open the target area the better). Thermobaric warheads work best in confined spaces. The materials (normally metal powders) is added to the conventional explosives and gives this type weapon the enhanced ability to generate much higher levels of heat energy, longer duration blast wave impulse, and higher pressures due to reflection of the blast wave in confined spaces (bunkers, caves, tunnels etc).

  13. Sarin causes muscarinic symptoms, resulting in copious secretions from the respiratory tract, runny nose and drooling. The foam is white.

    Yanagisawa, N., Morita, H., and Nakajima, T., 2006, Sarin experiences in Japan: Acute toxicity and long-term effects: Journal of the Neurological Sciences, v. 249, no. 1, p. 76–85, doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2006.06.007.