Imagine sitting in a subway car on the way to the office for another day of work, when suddenly you can not breath. You look around and notice that other people around you are having the same problem. You push and shove other people aside to try and get to the door, but the doors are sealed shut. People are yelling, screaming and pounding on the doors tyring to get out. But no one is coming to help. People are starting to loose consciousness.
In this incident there were no technical errors or problem with the circulation of air. It was a colourless, odourless, and tasteless chemical agent that was used by terrorists. This story actually happened in the busy subways of China. Everyone on the subway suffocated to death. Biological and chemical arsenals are effective in eliminating a large number of people in a short period of time. It is economical, efficient and swift. The victim is unaware of the chemicals effects. The poisonous gases can be distributed immediately or time released. As technology advances, so does our capability to design and manufacture more deadlier and dangerous weapons.
Biological weapons are the harmful use of micro organisms or toxins that attack a person or animals body at the cellular level. This is also called germ warfare. These micro organisms can cause vomiting, convulsions, headaches, involuntary defecation, impair visibility and can also be lethal. Biological Engineering allows scientist to create new virus strains that are even more deadlier and efficient. Only a small number of these organisms could kill millions of people in a few seconds, if it is properly distributed. Biological weapons have many effective possibilities. They can cause soldiers to become sick and unable to fight. Biological weapons can also infect an enemy’s crops or water supply and damage them.
Chemical agents affect the nervous system, breathing, skin, eyes, nose, or any other body part. Chemicals come in many shapes and sizes, they can be in the form of a gas, liquid, sprays and powders. The chemical can be colourless, odourless and tasteless which makes it hard for a person to know what is going on until it is too late. Some chemical agents are not deadly like tear gas which only causes a person to start coughing, crying and unable to breath until they catch a fresh breeze. This gas has been used frequently by police to stop riots. But other chemicals can be fatal just in one breath.
History of Biological and Chemical Weapons
Biological and chemical arsenals are not a new tactic to war. Humans had developed primitive forms of biological warfare for thousands of years. In Medieval times, corpses were catapulted into an enemy’s fortress. The body would be infected with a deadly disease that would spread with the enclosed walls of the castle. This tactic was used by the Romans. Disease infected bodies were also put into streams near the enemies castle. This would make the enemies water supply infested with deadly micro organisms. The oldest record use of germ warfare dates back to 600 BC, when the Athenians used hellebores (skunk cabbage) to contaminate the River Plieisthines. The defenders of Kurha suffered violent diarrhea that led to their defeat.
The first use of poisonous gas was in the Peloponnesian war between 431- 404 BC. The Spartans would burn wood that was saturated with pitch and sulphur, to release a sulphur dioxide gas. In 200 BC, a Carthaginian general ordered his soldiers to retreat and leave behind wine poisoned with mandragora. Mandragora is a narcotic which makes a person fall asleep. The enemy soldiers drank the wine, and while they were sleeping the Carthaginian soldiers slaughtered them. The Britains covered North American Indians with blankets that were infected with small pox.
In World War 1, biological and chemical arsenals started to be used in large scale attacks. A abandoned island named Gruinard, off the coast of Britain was dedicated to experimenting with biological weapons. No one is allowed to live there or even land on the island and all information was regarded classified. The first victims were sheep, they were bought from local farmers and shipped to the island. The three leading scientists involved in the experiment were explosive expert, Major Allan Younger, bacteriologist named Dr. David Henderson and Graham Sutton who was in charge of the experimental work. The scientists goal was to see if they could create a biological bomb. Writers such as Aldous Huxley and Winston Churchill predicted wars involving biological weapons. Their books told stories of “Pestilences methodically prepared and deliberately launched upon man and beast…Blight to destroy crops, Anthrax to slay horses and cattle, Plague to poison not armies only but whole districts- such are the lines alone which military science is remorselessly advancing.”
The scientists looked like they were in a science fiction movie with their rubber boots, tick gloves and sleek suites. They filled a bomb with brown, thick goo. Also known as Anthrax. This virus was considered the most efficient bacteria for a biological weapon because it was very infectious and deadly. Every sheep exposed to the bomb was killed. “They were incontrovertible proof that biological warfare was no longer just a nightmare science fiction fantasy: it could be made a reality. The Gruinard tests proved that germs could be produced, transported, loaded into munitions and exploded over target areas without necessarily destroying the fragile living organisms which spread the infection.”
Anthrax could be conveniently left in a chamber set at a temperature of 20C, and the bacteria would convert into spores. Spores are a indestructible organism which lies dormant until it has contact with a living organism. The scientists had mastered the art of cultivating the spores and could start mass production. A Japanese army major named Shiro Ishii believed that this was the most effective way of fighting. He opened a small factory that produced a large assortment of deadly diseases such as typhus, typhoid, anthrax, cholera, plague, salmonella, tetanus, botulism, brucellosis, small pox, tuberculosis, and tularemia. The quantities that were stock piled were enormous since some diseases could grow ever twenty four hours.
The threat of poisonous gases increased and so did the demand for protection. This led to the first gas masks in 1915. They were also known as respirators and were only a cloth tied around the soldiers face. Soldiers carried a bottle of soda solution or other chemical to moisten the cloth supplying filtration. The masks provided little protection for soldiers who were breathing gas in a four hour attack. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 banned the method of bacteriological warfare. The ban had the reverse affect and started a biological arm race. Immunization techniques were developed and offered protection against some bacteria. This also eliminated the major disadvantage of using biological weapons, the boomerang effect. This is the possibility of your own weapon back firing against your own people.
The military lingo CBW entered the vocabulary in the war. CBW stands for biological and chemical warfare. Biological and chemical were pieced together because the were unconventional methods of attack and they had to be maintained by people with scientific and medical skills.
The Geneva Protocol
The Geneva Protocol was signed on June 17, 1925. It is an important part of prohibiting weapons. There are currently fifty eight countries participating in the Geneva Protocol, such as India, Pakistan, and Cuba. Concerning biological and chemical warfare the Geneva Protocol states:
“The undersigned Plenipotentiaries, in the name of their respective Governments:
Whereas the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilised world; and
Whereas the prohibition of such use has been declared in Treaties to which the majority of the Powers of the World are Parties; and
To the end that this prohibition shall be universally accepted as part of International Law, binding alike the conscience and the practice of nations;
That the High Contracting Parties, so far as they are not already Parties to Treaties prohibiting such use, accept this prohibition, agree to extend this prohibition to the use of bacteriological methods of warfare and agree to be bound as between themselves according to the terms of this declaration.” (Landau, Elaine, 1991)
How do we protect ourselves?
If there ever is a chemical or biological war, how can people protect themselves from the microscopic attackers? People can be immunized to certain diseases. However, there might be new viruses that we know nothing about and have no defence against. Immunizing only protects a person from one certain virus and we can never guess which virus the enemy will fire at us. Injecting ourselves with every antidote known to man is not the answer either because a person could die from over immunizing. In the future, every home might be equipped with gas masks, protective suites for every family member.
If an attack suddenly happened out of the blue, people who were not able to protect themselves within a five square mile area would be infected. The cloud of biological or chemical agents would penetrate homes and other structures. After the cloud dispersed, people would still have to worry about water and food supply. There might also be the possibility a CBW attack would kill hardly anyone and only cause temporary incapacity. This might be because of the bombs poor coverage. The performance of a CBW weapon is highly uncertain, and could have a prolonged affect on the environment. Here is a list of effective protection against biological and chemical weapons:
Respirator or gas mask- Filters, usually made of activated charcoal, must block particles larger than one micron. Overgarments are also recommended to protect against contact with open wounds.
Protective shelter- Best if a closed room, ideally insulated with plastic and ventilated with filtered air.
Decontamination- Such traditional disinfectants as formaldehyde are effective for sterilizing
Vaccination- Must be for specific agent. Some agents require several inoculations over an extended period before immunity is conferred. For many agents, no vaccine is available.
Antibiotics- Effective against some but not all bacterial agents (and not effective against viruses). For some sensitive bacteria, antibiotic therapy must begin within a few hours of exposure. Before symptoms appear.
Detection systems- Only primary field units currently available for a few specific agents.
Research is under way to expand the number of agents that can be detected in battlefield situations or elsewhere.
Enemies may launch their chemical and biological missiles at innocent people in order to slow down weapons manufacturing or food production. However, the people who will be the target of many chemical and biological attacks will be in the front lines. They will have to be equipped with latest technological defences. Here are a few of the latest advancements in CBW defences:
Fuchs- Fuchs is an amphibious, 6 wheeled vehicle with a water speed of 10 kph. Manufactured in Germany, this vehicle will become the major element of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Regiment. Currently under development at the Chemical Defence Establishment, the vehicle will be equipped with the joint United States and United Kingdom Integrated Biological Detection System.
Chemical Agent Monitor (CAM)-Level 3- This is a hand held instrument used to monitor contamination levels of CW agents. It is based on Ion Mobility Spectrometry and responds carefully to agent vapours. It detects a range of nerve, blister, blood and choking agents to low levels and the level of toxic hazard is calculated by a built-in microprocessor and shown on a LCD display. A field Alarm Module is available to provide a remote alarm facility and the automatic switching between nerve and blister modes of operation.
Nerve Agent Immobilised Enzyme Alarm and Detector-Level 3- This is an automatic alarm system which continually monitors the surrounding atmosphere to provide audible or visual warnings of the presence of nerve agent in either vapour or aerosol forms. The equipment consists of a detector and 3 remote alarms which operate up to 500 m away from the detector.
Potential Biological Warfare Agents
Bacillus anthracis or Anthrax-If bacteria are inhaled, symptoms may develop in two to three days. Initial symptoms resembling common respiratory infection are followed by high fever, vomiting, joint ache and laboured breathing, and internal and external bleeding lesions. Exposure may be fatal. Vaccine and antibiotics provide protection unless exposure is very high.
Clostridium Botulinum Bacteria-Produces Botulinum toxin, which causes botulism. Symptoms appear 12 to 72 hours after ingestion or inhalation. Initial symptoms are nausea and diarrhea, followed by weakness, dizziness and respiratory paralysis, often leading to death. Antitoxin can sometimes arrest the process.
Yersinia Pestis- Causes bubonic plague, the Black Death of the Middle Ages. If bacteria reach the lungs, symptoms include fever and delirium. May appear in three or four days. Untreated cases are nearly always fatal. Vaccines can offer immunity, and antibiotics are usually effective if administered promptly.
Ebola virus- Highly contagious and lethal. May not be desirable as a biological agent because of uncertain stability outside of animal host. Symptoms, appearing two or three days after exposure, include high fever, delirium, severe joint pain, bleeding from body orifices, and convulsions, followed by death. No known treatment.
Russia, China, and Iraq are just a few of the countries who are suspected in storing biological and chemical agents. It is even rumoured that North Korea is researching on their own biological and chemical facility. As technology advances, the equipment needed to store and produce biological and chemical weapons will become common. The threat of a chemical and biological war in the near future is highly unlikely, but if there was a war there would be chemical and biological pathogens involved. It is important for governments to realize that the use of CBW is immoral and work together to ban the storage, production or launch of any pathogen. Who knows, the next time you are on your daily route to the office, you might find it hard to breathe.