The words "chemical and biological weapons" (CBW) send a shiver down most spines these days. With the end of the Cold War, the possibility of a massive nuclear confrontation appears remote, so today many popular doomsday scenarios center on the aggressive use of chemical or biological warfare by rogue nations or terrorist groups. As exaggerated as some of the accounts are, with CBW cast as the latest unseen, unstoppable enemy, the threat posed by these weapons is all too real, and growing. Although most of the CBW agents involve often complex technical challenges to be met before they can be effectively weaponized and delivered to a target, those challenges can be overcome with the right combination of expertise and resources. Even in crude form and delivered in a crude fashion, CBW agents can have a devastating impact. This sobering reality was realized on 20 March 1995, when members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult released the nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo subway. Twelve people were killed and more than 1,000 were hospitalized of the more than 5,000 who received medical attention. The material was impure and the delivery method was extremely crude, but with that attack against civilians during peacetime, and with the worldwide attention it received, CBW agents graduated from being a concern of the battlefield to a potential nightmare of our daily lives.
Environmental Health Perspectives www.ehp.niehs.nih.gov
Environmental Health Perspectives (December 1999), v.107 no.12, p.931-932