Date: April 10, 2010
Source: Homeland Security News Wire
Abstract: The small 2001 anthrax attack in the United States cost hundreds of millions of dollars in decontamination costs, and some of the facilities attacked could not be reopened for more than two years; a large-scale biological release in an American city, though, could potentially result in hundreds of thousands of illnesses and deaths and could cost trillions of dollars to clean up.
Following the 2001 anthrax attacks, the government and private sector undertook the task of cleaning up anthrax-contaminated facilities — a job that had never before been attempted on that scale. Decontaminating congressional office buildings, postal facilities, and media buildings cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and some of the facilities could not be reopened for more than two years.
Nine years later, what progress has been made in policy and practice that would make decontamination easier in the event of another attack? A recent assessment, sponsored by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism and appearing in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, found that the process of environmental decontamination would still be very difficult and costly and that the lines of responsibility at the federal level are still unclear.
The 2001 anthrax attack is considered to be a small attack, because relatively few facilities were involved and anthrax contamination was limited to indoor environments. A large-scale biological release, though, could potentially result in hundreds of thousands of illnesses and deaths and could cost trillions of dollars to clean up. An attack on a U.S. city could contaminate both indoor and outdoor areas, including buildings, street, parks, and vehicles.
Researchers from the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center looked at current decontamination policy and technical practices at the federal level to determine what gaps exist that might hamper response to a future large-scale attack with a biological agent. The government agencies with primary responsibility for decontamination are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Defense (DoD). Federal roles and responsibilities for decontamination research and response are not clearly spelled out, overlap, and are often underfunded..
The article also describes some of the technical and scientific issues that remain unresolved: After an anthrax release, what is the risk of secondary aerosolization? What is the federal standard for decontamination — or, how clean is clean? How clean is safe?
The authors note that there are too few personnel trained in
decontamination among all of the agencies and including private
contractors. In the event of an attack, private building owners and
government agencies would likely be calling on the same limited pool of
experts and contractors to help with remediation.
Among the recommendations the authors propose:
2. Congress should increase funding for decontamination research
3. In addition to research, additional investment in personnel is needed
(Homeland Security News Wire, 2010).
Title: Drexel Researchers Propose Formula On
Bioweapon Decontamination Risk
Date: April 23, 2012
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: New research aims to increase the efficiency of the decontamination process in buildings affected by the release of a bioterror agent.
A team from Drexel University’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering recently authored a study offering a method for responders to assess the risk to buildings from pathogens, such as anthrax, following the decontamination process and to determine when people can be sent in, according to HomelandSecurityWire.com.
“Bioterrorism continues to be a potential area of terrorist activity,” Dr. Patrick Gurian, a study co-author, said, HomelandSecurityNewsWire.com reports. “Past bioterrorism attacks in the United States revealed that the U.S. lacked guidelines for a quick response to bioterrorism agents.”
The current approach to decontamination is to scour the building until no pathogens are detected. The research suggests that finding pathogens depends greatly upon how extensively the sites are tested.
The Drexel team developed a mathematical formula to calculate the level of sampling and testing needed to mitigate the health risk in returning to the affected area. It is hoped that the process could speed up decontamination of buildings that do not pose a high residual risk of so resources can be focused on those areas where greater risk is present.
“To ensure that sampling efforts are sufficient to achieve targeted levels of human health protection requires a way to link residual contamination to human health risk,” Gurian said, according to HomelandSecurityWire.com. “It is this link between environmental concentrations and human health risk that is provided by this paper” (Bio Prep Watch, 2012).