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U.S. Not Ready For Bioattack Cleanup

by Glenn Hess
April 26, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 17

Credit: David Hanson/C&EN
The U.S. has too few trained personnel to handle a bioattack.
Credit: David Hanson/C&EN
The U.S. has too few trained personnel to handle a bioattack.

The federal government is not adequately prepared to deal with the potential consequences of a large-scale biological attack on the U.S., including the massive decontamination effort that would be required, warns a report by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Biosecurity. A major release of a biological warfare agent could potentially result in hundreds of thousands of illnesses and deaths and cost trillions of dollars to clean up, the study notes. Contaminated areas might include buildings, streets, parks, and vehicles, which would probably all need to be decontaminated before an affected city could be inhabited again. "Given the U.S. experience with the 2001 anthrax attacks, it is possible that a city might be uninhabitable for an extensive period of time following a large biological attack," the report says. Federal roles and responsibilities for decontamination research and response are not clearly spelled out, often overlap, and are generally underfunded, according to the analysis. In addition, the various federal agencies have too few personnel trained in decontamination.


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