MY TOPIC TODAY CONCERNS THE POTENTIAL FOR A BIOTERRORIST ATTACK to infect Americans on a vast scale. As most know, health authorities are struggling to explain new cases of pulmonary and cutaneous anthrax in victims with no obvious connections to contaminated mail or the post office. I consider this to be evidence that the infectious potential of biological agents like anthrax is not well understood and may be extraordinarily more potent than originally believed.
Let me add to this fact a story published in the October 22, 2001 issue of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Found on page one and titled “The Military, Microbes, and Secret Tests Using the U.S. Public,” it chronicles military experiments upon unknowing American citizens using biological agents. The most chilling test took place on September 20-27, 1948. Cruising in the Pacific Ocean, just off the city of San Francisco, a navy mine-layer with special equipment pumped an aerosol cocktail of Serratia marcescems and Bacillus globigiin into the foggy air. Military experimenters considered these bacteria to be harmless to humans. The bacteria were coated with fluorescent markers of zinc-cadmium-sulfide to help detect the results. The WSJ noted “based on results from monitoring equipment at 43 locations around the city, the Army determined that San Francisco had received enough of a dose for nearly all the city’s 500,000 residents to inhale at least 5,000 of the particles.”
Without commenting on other aspects of this particular Army experiment on unsuspecting American citizens, I would like to make two observations. First, in 1948, using technology considered crude by today’s standards, our military was able to blanket the 49 square miles of San Francisco with enough infectious agent to expose virtually every resident! Second, in today’s world, technology to create fine aerosols is highly advanced and small enough to fit inside a standard commercial helicopter or small pleasure craft. If I add these two facts together, it certainly seems that a well-planned bioterrorist attack has the potential to succeed on a scale heretofore undiscussed by our nation’s leaders.
Conclusion? I believe the threat is immense and it’s no coincidence that federal officials want to acquire 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine, enough for the entire population of the United States. My recommendation is that, because the nation’s clinical labs will be first to see evidence of such attacks, they should take preparations for bioterrorist acts very seriously.