Foremost in the mind of everyone is biological and chemical terrorism. Over the next few weeks, I am going to summarize aspects of chemical terrorism.
DEFINITION AND HISTORY
Weapons of mass destruction do not need to be sophisticated to kill millions of people. After an attack, number of casualties would be significant due to injuries caused by the agent and coincidental trauma. Severity of the attack depends on factors such as deployment (source, climate, site) agent (gas, liquid, aerosol) and population factors (density, susceptibility, specific protection). After an attack, food and water may become contaminated resulting in further injuries.
NATO defined a chemical weapon as “a chemical substance, which is intended for use in military operations to kill, seriously injure or incapacitate people because of its physiological effects”. Chemical and biological weapons (anthrax) form two ends of a spectrum. Chemicals of biologic origin (ricin, botulinum toxin) lie between these two extremes.
HISTORY OF ATTACKS WITH CHEMICAL AGENTS
(1914) WWI- Over 1,200,000 people are exposed to mustard and other gases. 90,000 die
(1935)-Italy conquest of Ethiopia, mustard gas delivered by aircraft spray
(1936)-Japan invades China using mustard gas, phosgene, and hydrogen cyanide
German labs produce first nerve agent, tabun
(1963-67)-Egypt uses phosgene mustard aerial bombs in support of South Yemen against the Yemeni royalist forces during the Yemeni civil war
(1980-1984)-27,000 Iranian casualties during the Iran-Iraq war when Iraq released mustard gas and tabun. The UN found Bacillus anthracis, rotavirus, aflatoxin, botulinum toxin, and mycotixin when investigating Iraqi military capabilities.
(1994-95)-The cult, Aum Shinrikyo, released sarin nerve gas in terrorist attacks at Matsumoto in June 1994 and on the Tokyo underground in March 1995. The cult had also produced VX nerve gas, built 3 laboratories to culture B. anthracis, bolulinum toxin and Coxiella Burnetti .
I am interested in any questions that you would like answered in “Question of the Week.” Please e-mail me with any suggestions at donna.seger@Vanderbilt.edu
Donna Seger, M.D.
Medical Director, Middle Tennessee Poison Center