Date: February 13, 2007
Abstract: Chlorine is to weapons of mass destruction as Run/DMC is to rap: old school. The OG of WMD is making a comeback on the mean streets of Baghdad, and it isn’t good. Fellow DANGER ROOM contributor Jason Sigger has pointed out the media hype that has followed these attacks. And he’s right so far. Chlorine is more hype than hurt, but it does add an ugly new facet to the war. So let’s put on our thinking hats and learn a little about our nasty little friend chlorine.
It’s everywhere and sometimes in large quantities. One of its primary uses is water purification so everywhere that there is water production, there is chlorine. Good news: in the US, Hazmat teams spend a lot of time dealing with it and training for releases. Lugging around a chlorine kit in a Level
A suit is not fun (trust me), but dealing with chlorine releases is part of the curriculum for all Hazmat Technician training. There are releases, but fire departments with hazmat teams are ready.
What does all of that mean? Well, "Isolate" is short for blocking off the area and having people in the hotzone protect or shelter in place. "Protect downwind" has you either evacuating the population or protecting them in place. (And you thought duct tape and plastic was one big joke.) The ERG distances are a rough estimate intended as a starting point in an emergency. Weather and terrain impact what the gas will do.
A large spill in an urban area is bad news. Chlorine gas is heavier than air so it tends to hug the terrain in a vapor cloud, especially at night. Given the right weather conditions, it might take hours for a cloud to dissipate as it moves downwind or downhill. In the US, communities are prepared for this, but is the Baghdad
Fire Department Hazmat team ready? I sure hope so.
Chlorine attacks the body in two ways: 1) as an inhalation hazard where it produces choking, respiratory distress, and at high concentrations our good friend pulmonary edema. 2) as a contact hazard where it burns eyes, mucous membranes, and even moist skin where it reacts with moisture forming hydrochloric acid.
According to my NIOSH pocket guide (another great document BTW), Chlorine is Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health at 10 parts per million. Air purifying respirators (gas masks) are recommended for escape use at concentrations up to 5 parts per million with the appropriate filter. The odor threshold for chlorine is about .3 parts per million. In other words, if you smell it, you have plenty of time to mask up and get the hell out, but in order to enter the hotzone and take care of business, you need to be wearing a self contained breathing apparatus and a fully encapsulated chemical protective garment. Level A all the way.
At the smell threshold, people might begin feeling other effects such as burning eyes and nose. People are chemo-phobic so even those who aren’t in an area of dangerous concentration will be worried. And the worried well often find their way to hospitals where they can overwhelm even the best emergency rooms.
So chlorine might not be a weapon of mass destruction, but it sure as hell is a weapon of mass effect. A large release done the right way can send a city reeling. The use of chlorine as a weapon indicates to me that the insurgents are adapting and upping the ante. Imagine living in a city where there are explosions, shootings, and mayhem every day of the week. Now, add poison gas to the mixture. Life in Baghdad sucks worse everyday.
If I were a planner in Baghdad right now, I’d get smart on hazmat in a hurry because I’m guessing that this is just the beginning.
Notes: I debated about writing about this for fear of giving the insurgents information that they can use. They have the internets too. Therefore, I have omitted any reference to how US Forces deal with this threat. All the information that I have used is available in open source. I hope any of the bad guys messing with this stuff die painfully in a green cloud of choking death, but that’s just me.Also, Dick Destiny has in interesting post on this. He makes some good points about the domestic panic over chemicals. Like I said, people are chemo-phobic. In the US, we’d be better served with a robust education program about sheltering in place than spending billions on protecting chemicals that are basically everywhere. Communities near chemical plants have been doing this effectively for years (Wired, 2007).
Title: Syria Ready With Bio-Terror If U.S. Hits Iran
Abstract: An American biodefense analyst living in Europe says if the U.S. invades Iran to halt its nuclear ambitions, Syria is ready to respond with weapons of mass destruction – specifically biological weapons.
“Syria is positioned to launch a biological attack on Israel or Europe should the U.S. attack Iran,” Jill Bellamy-Dekker told WND. “The Syrians are embedding their biological weapons program into their commercial pharmaceuticals business and their veterinary vaccine-research facilities. The intelligence service oversees Syria’s ‘bio-farm’ program and the Ministry of Defense is well interfaced into the effort.”
Bellamy-Decker currently directs the Public Health Preparedness program for the European Homeland Security Association under the French High Committee for Civil Defense.
She anticipates a variation of smallpox is the biological agent Syria would utilize.
“The Syrians are also working on orthopox viruses that are related to smallpox,” Bellamy-Decker said, “and it’s a good way to get around international treaties against offensive biological weapons development. They work on camelpox as a cover for smallpox.”
According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, camelpox is a virus closely related to smallpox, that causes a “severe and economically important disease in camels,” but rarely, if ever, causes the disease in humans.
Bellamy-Decker also told WND the North Koreans were working closely with the Syrians on their biological weapons program.
“The Syrians have made some recent acquisitions in regard to their smallpox program from the DPRK,” she explained. “Right before the recent Lebanon war, the Syrians had a crash program in cryptosporidium.”
According to the Washington State Department of Health, cryptosporidium is a one-celled parasite that causes a gastrointestinal illness with symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and a low-grade fever. The symptoms can last for weeks and may result in weight loss and dehydration.
“Because cryptosporidium is impervious to chlorine,” Bellamy-Decker continued, “you could infect the water supply by the bucket full of cryptosporidium, if you know where to get it. The resulting illness would put down a lot of civilians and military who might oppose you going into their country.”
“The Syrians have a modus operandi of covert operations and deniability,” she stressed, “so biological weapons are absolutely perfect for them.”
WND asked Bellamy-Decker if the Syrians have any history of having used biological weapons.
“I believe they are testing biological weapons right now, in Sudan, in the conflict in Darfur,” she answered. “There is credible information about flyover activity in Darfur, where little parachutes have been dropped down on the population. This is consistent with dispersal methods in bioweapons attacks. I’ve also seen evidence of bodies that have been recovered from Darfur that look as if they had been exposed to biological weapons.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum Feb. 28 to exchange expressions of support and solidarity.
“The Syrians now consider biological weapons as part of their arsenal,” Bellamy-Decker said. “The Syrian military is also beginning to plan the eventual integration of biological weapons in its tactical and strategic arsenals.”
She referenced an April 2000 article published by Syrian defense minister General Mustafa Talas, titled “Biological (Germ) Warfare: A New and Effective Method in Modern Warfare.” The article was republished in a Farsi translation in Tehran.
“All indications suggest that Syria’s ultimate objective is to mount biological warheads on all varieties of the long-range surface-to-surface missiles in its possession,” Bellamy-Decker maintained. “This is a goal that can probably be achieved within a few years, and it may already have been realized in part.”
She argued that instead of producing large quantities of bioweapons agents, Syria is seeking to develop a smaller, but high-quality arsenal, which it can deliver accurately against military and civilian targets.
When asked how Syria might be expected to retaliate against Israel or Europe if the U.S. attacked Iran, she responded, “Syria has most likely forward-deployed some of their covert operatives. Smallpox does not need to be weaponized. Aerosol release is the way to go.”
Bellamy-Decker explained the methodology of a terrorist bio-attack:
So with a good primary aerosol release in an airport in Israel or Europe and you could get 100 index cases. If you’ve made the strain sufficiently virulent, you could have a ratio of 1 to 13 for infectivity, where the normal ratio is 1 to 3. If every index case infects 13 other people, you unfortunately have a great first hit.
“A terrorist bio-attack could go global,” she noted. “A good biological hit will spread rapidly with international travel. Smallpox is a better weapon than anthrax. Smallpox has been field-tested, it is highly stable, and highly communicable, especially if you look at some of the strains the Russians manipulated. Syria probably retained some of [its] smallpox strains from the last outbreak back in 1972.”
Another risk is the possibility Syria’s military might give bioweapons to terrorists.
“We are close to seeing a breakthrough where Syria could provide biological weapons to some of the terrorist groups they work with, like Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Bellamy-Decker argued. “The Syrians believe they can vaccinate themselves and they are working within the Syrian military. They’re certainly not worried about releasing these biological weapons in a military setting, or even if civilians were infected as well, as long as they are vaccinated. I think it is a real threat.”
Bellamy-Decker is presenting a paper at this week’s Intelligence Summit in St. Petersburg, Fla. It is expected to focus on the sophisticated state of development of the Syrian bioweapons program.
“The Syrians have developed a rather remarkable bioweapons capability that has gone under the radar of U.S. intelligence,” she said. “U.S. intelligence continues to insist that the Syrian capability is not highly developed. The Syrian program mirrors how the Russians have developed their program, as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein, North Korea, and Iran. The emphasis in the Syrian program is on latent potential and outbreak capability.”
Bellamy-Decker explained we should not expect to find stockpiles of biological weapons.
“Stockpiles are just not how biological weapons are done,” she said. “With biological weapons, it is not the quantity, but the quality that counts. If you can produce a virulent, communicable strain, then you have a great biological weapon and it doesn’t matter how much of it you have, it depends on what the weapon looks like.”
Bellamy-Decker also referenced a paper she had co-authored for the European Homeland Security Association (EHSA) titled, “Public Health Security and Preparedness.”
This paper is intended to be used as part of a new initiative EHSA is
launching in Brussels to hold a quarterly bioterrorism forum bringing
together national and international experts with high-level
decision-makers “to discuss the threat posed by deliberate disease and
the appropriate preparedness and response mechanisms vitally needed to
address this threat” (WND, 2007).
Date: Macrch 20, 2007
Abstract: Interpol's top official said yesterday that evidence collected from terrorists suggests that international law enforcement agencies should be ready to respond to chemical and biological attacks.
Ronald K. Noble, Interpol secretary-general, told a reporter from Gulf News, a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates, that training materials recovered from Al Qaida investigations and information from captured operatives suggest that terrorist groups have had plans to launch bioterrorist attacks. Noble made the comments at an Interpol bioterrorism prevention workshop for the Middle East and North Africa, which is being held this week in Muscat, Oman. Interpol is the world's largest international organization of police agencies.
The goals of 3-day meeting in Oman are to educate senior law enforcement officials about bioterrorism prevention and response and provide them with guidance from international scientific and legal experts, according to an Interpol press release yesterday. Similar Interpol workshops have been held in South Africa, Singapore, Chile, and Ukraine.
"I have no doubt that the threat of bioterrorism is real and that we need to do more to prepare countries," Noble said in the press release.
Terrorists in Iraq recently perpetrated three chlorine bomb attacks, and "it is not difficult to imagine these attacks being extended from chemical to biological," Noble told Gulf News. "Nobody really knows when al Qaida will strike with chemical or biological weapons, but it is just a matter of time before the terrorists believe they are ready," he said, adding that the only restraint the terrorists face is the technical complexity of launching effective attacks.
In January, British intelligence officials warned the country's laboratory officials that Islamic terrorists may try to steal deadly viruses to mount biological attacks, the London Daily Mail reported on Jan 25.
Labs that handle infectious disease pathogens such as polio,
rabies, tuberculosis, and avian flu were told that their security
measures would be reviewed by law enforcement, the newspaper reported.
The story said Britain's MI5 security service had warned government
officials that al Qaida operatives were training in bioterrorism and
that the group had apparently tried to recruit university students to
gain access to labs (CIDRAP, 2007).
Title: Establishing a High Level Of Knowledge Regarding Bioterrorist Threats In Emergency Department Physicians: Methodology And The Results Of A National Bio-Preparedness Project
Date: June 19, 2007
Source: Prehospital And Disaster Medicine
Abstract: Medical systems worldwide are facing the new threat of morbidity associated with the deliberate dispersal of microbiological agents by terrorists. Rapid diagnosis and containment of this type of unannounced attack is based on the knowledge and capabilities of medical staff. In 2004, the knowledge of emergency department physicians of anthrax was tested.
The average test score was 58%. Consequently, a national project on bioterrorism preparedness was developed. The aim of this article is to present the project in which medical knowledge was enhanced regarding a variety of bioterrorist threats, including cutaneous and pulmonary anthrax, botulinum, and smallpox.
Methods: In 2005, military physicians and experts on bioterrorism conducted special seminars and lectures for the staff of the hospital emergency department and internal medicine wards.Later, emergency department senior physicians were drilled using one of the scenarios.
Results: Twenty-nine lectures and 29 drills were performed in 2005. The average drill score was 81.7%.The average score of physicians who attended the lecture was 86%, while those who did not attend the lectures averaged 78.3% (NS).
Conclusions: Emergency department physicians were found to be highly knowledgeable in nearly all medical and logistical aspects of the response to different bioterrorist threats. Intensive and versatile preparedness modalities, such as lectures, drills, and posters, given to a carefully selected group of clinicians, can increase their knowledge, and hopefully improve their response to a bioterrorist attack. While many medical institutions are busy preparing for disasters and non-conventional scenarios, there is little data regarding the effectiveness of different modes of preparation or even the general effectiveness of preparedness.This project implies that intensive and versatile preparedness modalities given to a carefully selected group of clinicians can be fruitful (Prehospital And Disaster Medicine, 2007).
Title: Bush’s Biodefense Advisor: We’re Not Ready for Pandemic Disease
Date: July 18, 2007
Abstract: The United States won’t close its borders if there’s an overseas bird flu outbreak, announced the Bush Administration’s biodefense advisor yesterday.
“The reality is that there are tremendous challenges to sealing our borders to begin with,” said Dr. Rajeev Venkayya, special assistant to the president for biodefense. “Secondly, we believe that if a pandemic virus emerges anywhere in the globe, it is inevitable that it will arrive here in the U.S. irrespective of the actions we take at the borders.”
That might seem like a fatalistic prediction, but there’s something refreshing about its honesty. A total border shutdown would be disastrous economically and ineffective medically; better to cut back on international flights, scan new arrivals for disease and be prepared for an outbreak when it happens. But as Venkayya went on to say, we’re not ready for that, either.
“Just to be brutally honest, we have a lot of trouble determining when we have an outbreak of disease in a community here in the U.S.,” Dr.
Venkayya said. “We need to have uniform biosurveillance capability to prepare not only for a pandemic, but any outbreak of infectious disease.”
The nation also has little extra capacity in its hospitals and other health care facilities to deal with a huge surge in need that would accompany a mass disease outbreak, Dr. Venkayya said. And the government has little ability to ensure that during an outbreak, when many workers would stay home, limited Internet capacity would go to essential work and not to children playing video games, officials said.
(How did an apparently straight-shooting guy like Rajeev Venkayya get this job, anyways? Has he just been pretending to drink his Bush Administration public relations kool-aid, then giving it to the dog when Karl Rove’s back is turned?)
We’ve recently covered the country’s disastrous disease surveillance program. This is seriously disturbing, scary stuff — and not just because of avian influenza, which some say is an overblown threat. Whether or not bird flu makes the human jump, nearly every global public health expert agrees that climate change, social instability, population growth and modern travel habits are a recipe for epidemics.
While the Bush administration has focused on bioterror, earmarking billions of dollars for (sloppy) research on largely hypothetical threats, clear and present disease dangers have received the political equivalent of pocket change.Come next elections, this deserves to be a serious political issue (Wired, 2007).