Chemical & Biological Attack
In case of a chemical or biological weapon attack near you, authorities will instruct
you on the best course of action. This may be to evacuate the area immediately, to
seek shelter at a designated location, or to take immediate shelter where you are
and seal the premises. The best way to protect yourself is to take emergency preparedness
measures ahead of time and to get medical attention as soon as possible, if needed.
Chemical warfare agents are poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids or solids that have
toxic effects on people, animals or plants. They can be released by bombs, sprayed
from aircraft, boats, or vehicles, or used as a liquid to create a hazard to people
and the environment. Some chemical agents may be odorless and tasteless. They can
have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (several
hours to several days). While potentially lethal, chemical agents are difficult to
deliver in lethal concentrations. Outdoors, the agents often dissipate rapidly. Chemical
agents are also difficult to produce.
There are six types of agents:
- Lung-damaging (pulmonary) agents such as phosgene,
- Vesicants or blister agents such as mustard,
- Nerve agents such as GA (tabun), GB (sarin), GD (soman), GF, and VX,
- Incapacitating agents such as BZ, and
- Riot-control agents (similar to MACE).
Biological agents are organisms or toxins that can kill or incapacitate people, livestock
and crops. The three basic groups of biological agents which would likely be used
as weapons are bacteria, viruses, and toxins.
- Bacteria. Bacteria are small free-living organisms that reproduce by simple division and are
easy to grow. The diseases they produce often respond to treatment with antibiotics.
- Viruses. Viruses are organisms which require living cells in which to reproduce and are intimately
dependent upon the body they infect. Viruses produce diseases which generally do not
respond to antibiotics. However, antiviral drugs are sometimes effective.
- Toxins. Toxins are poisonous substances found in, and extracted from, living plants, animals,
or microorganisms; some toxins can be produced or altered by chemical means. Some
toxins can be treated with specific antitoxins and selected drugs. Most biological
agents are difficult to grow and maintain. Many break down quickly when exposed to
sunlight and other environmental factors, while others such as anthrax spores are
very long lived. They can be dispersed by spraying them in the air, or infecting animals
which carry the disease to humans as well through food and water contamination.
- Aerosols—Biological agents are dispersed into the air, forming a fine mist that may drift
for miles. Inhaling the agent may cause disease in people or animals.
- Animals—Some diseases are spread by insects and animals, such as fleas, mice, flies, and
mosquitoes. Deliberately spreading diseases through livestock is also referred to
- Food and water contamination—Some pathogenic organisms and toxins may persist in food and water supplies. Most
microbes can be killed, and toxins deactivated, by cooking food and boiling water.
Anthrax spores formulated as a white powder were mailed to individuals in the government
and media in the fall of 2001. Postal sorting machines and the opening of letters
dispersed the spores as aerosols. Several deaths resulted. The effect was to disrupt
mail service and to cause a widespread fear of handling delivered mail among the public.
Person-to-person spread of a few infectious agents is also possible. Humans have been
the source of infection for smallpox, plague, and the Lassa viruses. Be aware of your
surroundings. The very nature of terrorism suggests that there may be little or no