Let's Talk about Anthrax
Let's talk a little about anthrax. It's a disease common in the
wild. Kills everything from lions to elephants though predators
have a lot more resistance to it than hoofed mammals. When an animal
in the wild dies of anthrax the bacteria inside it form spores consisting
of a triple protein-like coat around a core of DNA. The spores become
dormant. They can stay viable in soil and water for years and then,
when breathed, ingested or in skin contact with a susceptible animal,
they become active and infect it.
Theoretically people can get anthrax if spores get on their skin,
by eating infected meat or by breathing in spores. In practice most
human cases have been as a result of handling infected carcasses
or animal skins. The only anthrax epidemic in the US is thought
to have resulted from a contaminated goat skin from Pakistan which
infected 9 workers over the course of 10 weeks in the Arms Textile
Mill in ANCHESTER, N.H., where sheep and goat skins were processed.
(I can kinda see some guy in Pakistan finding a dead goat and skinning
it out and selling it just cause he needed the money.) Four workers
contracted cutaneous anthrax and five inhalation anthrax, four of
whom died. After that the plant required all workers to be immunized
in order to work there. There were no more cases of anthrax at Arms
Textile but in 1966 enough spores were carried in the air across
an alley and into a neighboring machine shop to infect and kill
a man who worked there. This was the last anthrax death in the US
until 2001. Arms Textile went out of business a couple of years
later and in 1971, the decontamination process began, with workers
"vaccinated and dressed in protective
suits and oxygen masks and tanks spraying first a detergent solution
and then concentrated formaldehyde over the mill. In 1976,...
the city decided to raze the building, worried that anthrax might
still be hiding in the crevices of the old timber and brick, Mr.
Rusczek of the Manchester Health Department said.
As the building came down, it was sprayed
with a chlorine solution, he said. The timber was incinerated,
and the bricks, doused in chlorine again, were buried a half-mile
Anthrax is serious. Even decades later. Anthrax spores can travel
on the wind and kill people at a distance. And this was naturally
occurring anthrax (unless this was a military test of the anthrax
vaccination they were testing at the plant at that time.
"The study sprang out of the cold war fear that enemies would
seek to use anthrax as a biological weapon, and Dr. Brachman's task
was to see if the vaccine worked." Interesting
that the only human anthrax epidemic in US history was at the very
plant where they were testing an anthrax vaccine to see if it would
protect soldiers. Another of those things that make you go hmmmm...)
So...it floats, it survives, and it kills at a distance. Then we
get to anthrax weaponized by the militaries of the US and Russia.
Weaponization of anthrax means that anthrax bacteria are grown,
forced to produce spores, and the spores are then harvested and
processed until they are so concentrated that they are, effectively,
all spore, until they float in the air like dust and can spread
on the wind. (It also involves the development of strains that are
antibiotic and vaccine resistant.) This kind of anthrax is a battlefield
weapon and is hard to control, even by the bioweapons scientists
who produce it.
Both the Soviet Union and the US have or had bioweapons programs,
even after both signed a treaty outlawing them. A major Soviet bioweapons
lab was located in Sverdlovsk in the Ural Mountains where, on April
2, 1979, a clogged air filter was removed and a note was left for
the next shift to replace it but it was several hours before it
was replaced. During that time it is believed that less than a gram
of anthrax spores was released into a brisk wind that happened to
be blowing away from the city and its 1.2 million residents. People
began to die. The official count of the dead was 64 but that is
thought to have excluded any lab employees who died in the lab hospital.
Animals died up to 30 miles away. That only 64 (68 in some reports)
died seems fortunate considering what the number of dead would have
been if the wind had been blowing in the opposite direction, toward
Sverdlovsk. At one time the US suspected this of being a Soviet
test of their weaponized anthrax.[Perhaps
because the US made such a test at Arms Textile?] This
is unlikely considering the size of the population around the plant
and the fact that the families of the workers and scientists lived
there. This outbreak does illustrate how difficult it is to control
How are weaponzied anthrax spores, spores processed to float in
the air, how are they controlled? They must grown in, at least,
a Level 3 Biosafety facility and weaponized in a Level 4 Biosafety
facility. What does that mean?
Difference Between Level 1, 2, 3 and 4 Laboratories
Level 1: These labs handle routine
biological agents unlikely to cause disease in healthy workers.
Work can be done in a non-secure, open environment.
Level 2: Agents tested in Level
2 facilities generally are not transmitted through the air. Basic
safety features such as sealed centrifuges and personal protective
equipment (gloves, lab coats and protective eyewear) are used.
Decontamination through hand washing and autoclaves are standard
Level 3: Agents tested in Level
3 labs can be transmitted through the air, and can cause serious
or life threatening disease.
Level 4: Agents tested in level
4 labs can be transmitted by air, can produce serious and often
fatal disease and there is generally no treatment or vaccine available.
Level 4 facilities are isolated, completely sealed with their
own air systems and are structurally independent of other buildings.
Level 3 and 4 laboratory areas contain
airtight rooms and duct work, and feature interlocking and airtight
bio-seal doors and damper systems. Air-locks for entry and exit
maintain negative air pressures to direct air inward, ensuring
organisms being studied remain in the laboratory. Air exiting
the laboratories is filtered using High Efficiency Particulate
Air (HEPA) filtration. HEPA filters can filter out particles 85
times smaller than the smallest known disease-causing agent. All
of the laboratories in the complex feature 100 percent sterilization
of solid and liquid waste, accomplished by a 20,000 litre liquid
sterilization system and a specially-designed autoclave to heat
and break down solid waste. All mechanical, electrical and structural
penetrations through the containment barrier are equipped with
special containment seals. In the event of a blackout, three 1000-kilowatt
generators handle emergency power back-up to all heating, ventilation
and air conditioning systems, and to essential life safety systems.
So this is what is needed to produce and work with weaponized anthrax:
Level 4 Biosafety Containment. Without it anthrax spores would escape
and there would be a trail of anthrax deaths leading back to the
source as happened in Sverdlovsk. But even with the highest levels
of containment these spores are still difficult to control. They
have been found outside the labs at Ft. Detrick despite their advanced
facilities and security.
In spite of a security crackdown there
following the attacks [by the anthrax terrorist], two incidents
have occurred this year at Ft. Detrick in which spores escaped
from a high-containment laboratory and were found in hallways,
offices and locker rooms. One case was recognized only when an
unauthorized employee took swabs outside the laboratory to check
for anthrax contamination--something no one had thought of doing
there before. http://www.fas.org/bwc/news/anthraxreport.htm
Leak Of Anthrax Found at Army Lab
The two new contamination spots were found in Fort Detrick's Building
1425 during testing conducted last weekend, officials said. That
testing, involving more than 800 swabs, had been initiated Friday
after potentially deadly anthrax spores were found to have escaped
from a sealed lab and spread to other areas inside the building.
The building is undergoing its second decontamination
effort in four days in an effort to wipe out the newly discovered
spores and also to make a second stab at killing all the spores
from the first spill. Follow-up testing yesterday revealed that
a few spores had survived the first decontamination effort.
So even a Level 3/4 military lab can be contaminated
and spores survive a decontamination effort. This further indicates
that a "terrorist" outside one of these labs would have
found it impossible not to contaminate his home, car, office, clothes,
Anthrax cannot be produced without
leaving evidence-telltale spores that have escaped into the environment.
Companies that use spore-forming
organisms to manufacture vaccines (for tetanus and botulinum toxoid,
for instance) can never use the facility for making other products,
due to persistent contamination with invisible spores. The Hart
Senate Office Building clean-up took 3 months and cost $14 million,
and may not have rid the building of every anthrax spore.
Therefore, production in a basement lab
could lead to spore detection (and proof of guilt) for the foreseeable
future, if environmental samples were obtained and cultured. Furthermore,
the equipment and materials the attacker purchased to produce
the anthrax could be traced.
In addition to increasing the attacker's
chances of being detected, spore production is dangerous.
Anthrax experts know that physical
protection (particularly the use of a self-contained breathing
apparatus) is your primary protection from inhaled anthrax. It
has long been established that large spore counts
can overwhelm vaccine-induced immunity and antibiotic protection.
In fact, for a long time the Ames strain was called "vaccine
resistant" at Fort Detrick. So anyone in-the-know would have
worked with the spores in a safe setting. They might well have
been vaccinated and used antibiotics, but would not have relied
on them exclusively for protection.
Therefore, anthrax was almost certainly manufactured, mixed with
the anti-cling powder, and placed into envelopes in a protected
Placing the spores - two trillion
at a time - into envelopes would have been particularly dangerous.
These spores floated off the glass slides when scientists first
tried to look at them. You can't fill an envelope without losing
millions or billions of spores in the process.
It is only logical that the
filling occurred within an official anthrax "hot suite"-
a Biosafety Level 3 or 4 facility, by someone in a "moon
suit" using a protected air supply. There
are a small number of these facilities.
Anthrax cannot be produced without
leaving evidence of telltale spores that have escaped into the
environment.... Therefore, production
in a basement lab could lead to spore detection (and proof of
guilt) for the foreseeable future, if environmental samples were
obtained and cultured. Furthermore, the equipment and materials
the attacker purchased to produce the anthrax could be traced.
a highly trained scientist would have had a difficult time preparing
and sending the anthrax without getting it all over himself and
his surroundings. Anthrax researchers describe how the finely
milled powder simply floats off glass slides before they can get
it under the microscope. Getting the stuff into an envelope -
and not everywhere else - would have required enormous skill.
One possibility: the perpetrator had access to a commercial or
government lab equipped with
a "clean room."
Therefore the anthrax could not have been produced in someone's
basement, not even if that person knew the procedures for growing
anthrax and weaponizing it. It would be like trying to make a nuclear
weapon in your basement. Even if you had the material and knew how
to make one, it would leave telltale radiation. Similarly the production
of weaponized anthrax would have left such contamination that it
would easily detected and would likely have left a circle of death
around the production facility just as the release of a few micrograms
of anthrax caused dozens of deaths in Russia in 1979.The anthrax
could not even have been stolen and place in envelopes outside of
Level 4 Containment. " Placing the spores
- two trillion at a time - into envelopes would have been particularly
dangerous. These spores floated off the glass slides when scientists
first tried to look at them. You can't fill an envelope without
losing millions or billions of spores in the process."
No amateur produced this anthrax. No expert weaponized
the anthrax outside of Level 4 containment.
If the attacker used government-made (or
defense contractor-made) anthrax, and filled the envelopes in
hot suites already contaminated with Ames anthrax, he will have
left no evidence. He could walk out of the hot suite with his
filled envelopes in a plastic bag or other secure container, and
no one would be the wiser. Furthermore, the first known letters
were postmarked September 18, and contained a fake Islamic message.
Yet another clue: although anthrax degrades extremely slowly,
and could have been obtained or produced at any time, the choice
of September and an Islamic message suggests the first envelopes,
at least, were filled between September 11 and 18. Who used the
hot suites then?
with any responses