Bioterrorism is not a distant threat that may concern us twenty years from now. It has occurred throughout history and continues to this day. As recently as 1996, a man from Ohio with connections to an extremist group was able to obtain Bubonic Plague cultures through the US Postal Service (Danzig & Berkowsky, 1997). In the last month, several people within the United States have become infected with anthrax. As we stand right now, America is unprepared for a large-scale attack with biological weapons, and as we continue with our "War on Terrorism," the likelihood of such an attack is increasing every day. Terrorists can use three major methods to most effectively distribute a biological agent in the US: 1) air dispersal to target humans, 2) contamination of water supplies, and 3) air dispersal to target crops. Once we assess these strategies, we must evaluate and implement effective responses to an attack depending on the dispersal methods used.
Air Dispersal Targeting Humans
The most likely method of bioterrorism is the air dispersal of biological agents against humans. Given the right meteorological conditions, an infective cloud can have drastic consequences on a metropolitan population. Experts estimate that aerosolized Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) spores released from an airplane two kilometers upwind of a population center of 500,000 people could travel more than 20 km and incapacitate or kill 220,000 people (Franz et al, 1997; Danzig & Berkowsky, 1997). An aerosol release would remain virtually undetected until symptoms developed within the population over the following three days. Bacillus anthracis spores, which are capable of surviving adverse environmental conditions, can live in pond water for two years and in soil for more than 40 years. (Burrows & Renner, 1999). Because a lethal dose of anthrax amounts to only one millionth of a gram, areas can remain heavily contaminated years after an airborne attack.
Several methods have been suggested for the massive airborne release of biological agents. Crop dusters, the most likely, are designed to release high concentrations of pesticides over large areas. This form of pesticide distribution exactly parallels the optimal methods for dispersal of a harmful biological agent. Stationary sprayers have also been implicated as a potential source of biological attack and could include backpack sprayers, agricultural sprayers, or even perfume atomizers (Danzig & Berkowsky, 1997). Airborne schemes of distribution are virtually uncontrollable by government agencies. Crop dusters are available to anyone with a pilot's license and backpack sprayers can be found in most hardware stores. The consequence of the recent anthrax attacks through the US Postal service pale in comparison to the potential consequences of such an airborne attack.
Although anthrax is not contagious, there are numerous potential airborne agents that are....