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Terrorism - Chemical And Biological Terrorism

anthrax ricin agents terrorist

Chemical and Biological Terrorism

In 2004 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) listed chemical and biological agents that could potentially be used to harm whoever comes into contact with them. The CDC has an emergency preparedness and response plan in place so it can coordinate effective actions to counter a chemical or biological attack.

Chemical agents

Two chemicals associated with terrorist activity that were in the news worldwide in the late 1990s and early 2000s were sarin and ricin. Sarin is a manmade chemical warfare agent that acts rapidly against the nervous system, making breathing difficult or impossible. Sarin is a clear, colorless, tasteless liquid that does not smell and tiny amounts are deadly. It can be evaporated to a poisonous gas that will spread rapidly when released. Sarin nerve gas was used in a Tokyo, Japan, subway station on March 20, 1995, killing 12 people and injuring 5,700. Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo claimed responsibility.

Ricin is a natural poison found in castor beans. Ricin can be used in a variety of ways to harm people. It can be breathed as a mist or powder, be swallowed when placed in water or food, and can be injected in liquid form into a person's body. Tiny amounts of ricin can kill an adult. On October 15, 2003, an envelope with a sealed container and a note was found at a Greenville, South Carolina, mail processing and distribution facility.

The author of the note threatened to contaminate water supplies if his or her demands were not met. The CDC confirmed the container held ricin. No ricin-associated poisoning cases developed and no further environmental contamination was found. The FBI and local law enforcement officials were investigating to find the source of the ricin.

Biological agents

By the early twenty-first century governments feared that terrorist groups would find a way to obtain deadly biological FBI agents in biohazard suits at the American Media building in Boca Raton, Florida, after a man who worked in the building died of inhalation anthrax. (AP/Wide World Photos) agents. Three biological agents of concern are anthrax (a disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis), smallpox (a viral disease), and botulism (a deadly poison made by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum).

Very small amounts of anthrax can be spread in the air and produce upper respiratory problems and even death if inhaled. Inhaled anthrax is the deadliest form of the disease. For example, the U.S. Congress estimates that if two hundred pounds of anthrax was sprayed over Washington, D.C., up to three million people could die.

In October and November 2001 anthrax was used in terrorist activities. Following two deaths in October in Florida, anthrax was sent though the mail to a New York network news journalist and to the Washington, D.C., office of Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. The U.S. Senate building where Daschle's office was located was closed for weeks. Post office machinery used to sort mail was also contaminated. Post offices were closed for inspection and cleaning.

In all, twenty-three people fell ill and five died, including postal workers and individuals whose mail had been contaminated. As of the summer of 2004, the individual or group responsible for the anthrax deaths had not been apprehended.

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