Chemical and Biological Weapons
Chemical weapons are typically categorized as blister, nerve, choking, blood and riot-control agents, and the effects of these weapons are felt immediately upon inhalation or skin contact. Examples of chemical weapons are mustard gas, sarin, chlorine, hydrogen cyanide and tear gas.
Biological weapons can be categorized as bacterial, viral or toxic, and effects of such agents vary given that it may not be obvious to those infected until days after a biological weapon has been released. Examples of biological weapons include anthrax, smallpox, plague, yellow fever, and botulism.
The impact of a chemical or biological attack could make the events of September 11 pale in comparison. That is why preparation for such an attack is critical. In recent years, the U.S. has focused on building up important resources: training health care professional to identify unusual disease outbreaks, improving labs so that they are able to quickly diagnose new viruses, creating vaccines for biological releases, and beefing up medical supplies. According to the World Health Organization, however, the U.S. is still not sufficiently protected in the event of an attack. In fact, most of the resources currently being deployed by the Administration are for the U.S. military, rather than also directing those resources to the public health realm.
Problems with a U.S. emergency response were emphasized in 2001 in a "war game" exercise called "Dark Winter" that simulated a smallpox attack. The exercise conducted by public health officials and involving senior-level political officials examined the national security, intergovernmental, information, and public health challenges of a biological attack on the U.S. "Dark Winter" successfully highlighted public health as a national security issue, and demonstrated how U.S. preparedness in the face of a biological weapons attack is essential.
While it may appear that a chemical or biological weapons attack is more likely than ever before, there are technical hurdles to developing an effective large-scale chemical or biological weapons program according to the Henry Stimson Center, which has published an informative list of Frequently Asked Questions that addresses those issues.
Organizations Working on Weapons Threats
Many organizations continue to work on threats associated with chemical and biological weapons. A complete list of those groups and relevant government sites are listed below:
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