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Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 1999;6(2):103-5. doi: 10.1007/BF02987561.

Pathways for the oxidation of sarin in urban atmospheres.

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  • 1Atmospheric Sciences Group, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA.


The nerve agent sarin has recently been deployed by terrorists in a major city. The molecule is volatile and made its way to many victims by passing as vapor through a highly reactive medium. Here we estimate rates and pathways for the removal of gas phase sarin from a generalized urban atmosphere. Only information from the open scientific literature is used. By structure reactivity comparisons with the organophosphorus pesticides, hydroxyl radical hydrogen abstraction may occur in as little as one hour. Decomposition of side chains after hydroxyl attack leads to organic oxygenates which preserve the phosphonofluoridate and so toxicity. The aqueous aerosol surface is contacted in minutes and offers access to a range of dissolved nucleophiles. Substitution displaces the fluoride leaving group, giving safe phosphoric acid analogs. Because of uncertainties in the electron distribution and in aqueous decay mechanisms, the time constants must be viewed as lower limits.

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