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Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism
or other industrial health guidelines (which could be used to help establish the maximum concentrations of such agents for declaring a “decontaminated” environment) are generally unavailable or not applicable to public settings (Raber et al., 2001). Moreover, the correct means for identifying the presence of many biological agents are not known, nor is the significance of the presence of biological agents in the natural environment (e.g., anthrax spores are found in the soil in some parts of the United States). Research is therefore needed to determine what level of cleanup will be required to meet public health needs in the aftermath of a bioterrorist attack.
Although the lack of dose information, cleanup criteria, and decontamination protocols presents challenges to effective planning, several decontamination approaches are available. Such approaches should be combined with risk-informed decision making to establish reasonable cleanup goals for the protection of health, property, and resources. Efforts in risk assessment should determine what constitutes a safety hazard and whether decontamination is necessary. Modeling exercises are needed that take into consideration the characteristics of a particular pathogen, public perceptions of the risk that the pathogen poses to their health, the level of public acceptance of recommendations based on scientific criteria, levels of political support, time constraints in responding to the threat posed by a pathogen, and economic concerns (Raber et al., 2001). Specialized robots may have to be developed and used in highly contaminated or extremely hazardous situations.
For agricultural biological threats, critical components of the response include quarantines, disposal of contaminated plant or animal material, and decontamination of products, facilities, equipment, and, in some cases, soil (especially for agents that are persistent and can survive in the environment) (NRC, 2002). The disposal or decontamination procedures used, as well as their effectiveness and acceptability, are highly specific to each biological agent: They depend on the nature of the agent, the commodity affected, and the extent of disease or infestation. For example, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is so highly contagious that large numbers of infected and potentially exposed animals may need to be slaughtered and disposed of at the farm of origin. Mass burial and burning are the major alternative means for disposal. Both methods are expensive, repugnant to many people, and raise environmental concerns. Novel methods for carcass disposal, for inactivation of FMD virus in and on carcasses, and alternatives to mass slaughter during FMD outbreaks are urgently needed. Decontamination of products, equipment, or facilities is less of a problem because FMD virus is inactivated by heat, irradiation, or treatment with chemicals at high or low pH.
Similar issues apply to plant pests and pathogens. In general, decontamination of seeds and combines, trucks, or other field or handling equipment is pos-