Scientists link chemicals in two attacks

A gas that may have been used in Wednesday's chemical attack at Yokohama railway station is a crucial component of sarin, the nerve gas used in last month's Tokyo subway attack.

At first, Japanese police said the gas used on Wednesday was phosgene, a chemical agent that was first used in 1915. But later, the police retracted these statements.

According to John Emsley, of Imperial College, London, thionyl chloride, used in the manufacture of sarin, smells similar to phosgene and produces the signs reported by the victims of Wednesday's attack: choking, tightness in the chest, smarting eyes and a smell like that of strong swimming pool chlorine.

Some sources said phosgene could also be used in making sarin, and suggested that if other chemicals had been confiscated from the premises of the Aum Shinry Kyo cult, blamed for the Tokyo attack, it would make sense to use the phosgene as a chemical agent on its own. But Dr Emsley and the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down said it was unlikely phosgene would be used to make sarin.

Unlike phosgene, which can leave people apparently unharmed until they die a few hours later, thionyl chloride - SOCl2 - is not lethal. It is used in the early stages of making sarin. At the end, another chemical is added, commonly used as a pesticide. Film of chemicals being confiscated from the cult's headquarters showed drums of this material. Different combinations of the chemical produce different nerve agents in the "G'' range - tabun and soman. The sarin gas used in last month's attack in Tokyo, which killed 12 people and injured 5,500, was impure, but effective.

Derek Rowe, Director of Defence Products Ltd, a London based consultancy, said: "This sort of thing has to be done professionally, in clinical conditions, with glove boxes. If you try to do it in the garage, you'll kill yourself and a lot of other people as well."

Western security experts are concerned that a copycat terrorist attack may occur in Europe. A different range of nerve gases, called V agents, are even more deadly than tabun, sarin and soman. But they are more difficult to make, and more difficult to disperse as they are viscous, whereas sarin is about as volatile as petrol.

All these agents work by attacking cholinesterase, the chemical that switches off nerve cells after a muscle action is completed. There are reports of a new, deadlier nerve agent called novichok. It is also produced by combining two relatively innocuous ingredients at the last minute. The Russian military are reported to have developed it at a centre about 50 miles from Moscow. A number of scientists were reported killed or disabled when it was accidentally released last year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas