5 YEARS LATER, THE THREAT OF ANTHRAX IS REAL


By: Steven Maggi

This October marks the fifth anniversary of another terrorist attack against the United States. While the horrors of 9/11 are etched in our collective memories, the Anthrax attacks of October 2001 are a faint memory and something we need to be reminded of.

As a consultant in the Homeland Security industry, I remember those crazy, confused days after 9/11. The first of letters containing anthrax were postmarked exactly one week later, sent to ABC, CBS, NBC, the New York Post and the National Enquirer. Two additional letters, dated October 9, containing a more potent quality of anthrax were addressed to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The government mail service was shut down, buildings were evacuated.

Twenty-two people developed anthrax infections, and eleven of those were inhalation anthrax, which is life threatening. Five died. Two-month courses of the antibiotic drug Cipro became the hottest cocktail in the nation’s capital.

We still don’t know who is responsible for these attacks. Last month, Katie Couric promised a CBS report given a full update of the attacks. Unfortunately, the report was, as Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media reported, nothing but “an apology for the FBI’s incompetence.”

So what are the chances of this ugly incident reoccurring? We know for a fact that al-Queda had an extensive anthrax program. President Bush, when discussing his proposal for military commissions (and not courts) to try terrorists, revealed that during questioning authorities learned of the program. Anthrax is a relatively easy way for terrorists to inflict damage to the American psyche.

There are some answers for Anthrax that we need to be aware of and be ready to use should the need arise. One is methyl bromide, a traditional pesticide that has been safely used worldwide for over 50 years.

An entomology professor from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Dr. Rudy Scheffrahn, discovered methyl bromide’s effectiveness regarding anthrax while conducting research on an unrelated project. Scheffrahn then sought and obtained a crisis exemption from the U.S. EPA to test it…the good news is that it works.

You would think, “Great. Done deal. We now have an effective response.” It’s not that simple. Under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which took effect in 1989, the United Nations is charged with eliminating chemicals that damage the earth’s ozone layer. Among the chemicals that are being eliminated are CFCs (Chloroflorocarbons) which are used in everything from refrigerators to asthma inhalers. Methyl Bromide is another one of these chemicals.

The chemicals that are replacing these, are much more costly, toxic, and in many cases, untested. This becomes a simple case of priorities….what is more important? Keeping a safe chemical that kills deadly Anthrax? Or is it better to fully capitulate to a United Nations mandate that makes little impact while forcing America to give up an effective tool in the war on terror?

There is another Anthrax-mitigating technology available that is effective. The company that provides this service uses a “technology” that is, essentially, bleach. They bleach all surfaces, stripping paint, destroying furniture, computers, and records. I think this service is valuable, but is by no means a replacement technology for methyl bromide. We need both methods, depending on the applications, and we need to look for more.

But perhaps the best argument for methyl bromide is the relative cost of application vs. using a bleaching agent. There really is no comparison here, as it’s literally pennies on the dollar relative to using the existing technologies.

Renowned terrorist expert Steve Longoria feels complacency regarding this particular tool in the war on terror is dangerous. Longoria, a 25-year veteran of fighting terrorism worldwide, says the United States needs to perceiver in its effort to stay ahead of the terrorists. “As we build new security features we must maintain the balance between fear and conviction; between complacency and commitment. We must ensure any security feature designed to protect our human and capital resources does not invite complacency to cloud our vision of safety. Or worse yet, not built at all in the false hope that we can negotiate with those whose only mission is the full and complete extermination of the United States of America.”

The bottom line is this: we know our enemy and what he is capable of. We need to stay ever-vigilant, using every method at our disposal to fight this scourge. We need to end the phasing out of methyl bromide and consider the needs of America’s homeland security and the nation’s survival.

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