Let's Talk about Anthrax

By Alllie

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 who were

"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 away."

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 anthrax spores.

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?

The 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 procedure.

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

2nd 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, etc.

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 environment.

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.

Yet even 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?




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