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Senate Bill Guards Against Bioattack

by Glenn Hess
September 14, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 37

Lawmakers are proposing new safeguards to thwart attacks by terrorists seeking to use deadly biological pathogens and other weapons of mass destruction. "We dare not bury our heads in the sand and ignore the very real risks we face from a terrorist WMD attack," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, at a Capitol Hill news conference last week. The proposed Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention & Preparedness Act of 2009 (S. 1649) would require the Department of Homeland Security to identify the most dangerous biological agents and to develop security standards for laboratories that handle these pathogens. The bill would authorize annual grants of $50 million over each of the next four years to pay for personnel background checks, staff training, and other security precautions. It would also establish a national strategy for dispensing antibiotics and other medicines to the public if an attack occurs. The legislation was crafted after a congressionally mandated commission concluded in December 2008 that a WMD terrorist attack is likely to occur "somewhere in the world" by the end of 2013 (C&EN, Dec. 8, 2008, page 6). The panel said a biological attack is more likely than a nuclear strike.


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