Terrorism: Background on Chemical, Biological, and Toxin Weapons and Options for Lessening Their Impact [Updated June 30, 2003] [open pdf - 88KB]
The catastrophic terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent anthrax mailings have sensitized the nation to acts of domestic terror. The confirmation of terrorist interest in weapons of mass destruction and the vulnerability of the United States to such attack have highlighted the potential that these weapons may be used as weapons of terror. The framework of weapons of mass destruction includes chemical, biological, and toxin weapons. Chemical, biological, and toxin weapons can produce mass casualties if effectively disseminated, but have varying and different effects. Chemical weapons, predominantly man-made chemicals, require the largest amounts of material to be effective and cause their effects in minutes to hours. Biological weapons made of naturally occurring pathogens require the least material to be effective, but generally have an incubation period of several days before symptoms show themselves. Toxin weapons, chemical agents formed by biological processes, are intermediate between the two in both amount and timescale. Treatment protocols for chemical, biological, and toxin weapons vary on a per-agent basis, ranging from weapons with effective treatment and prophylaxis to weapons which have no known cure nor protection. Potential options to further decrease the odds of chemical, biological, and toxin terrorism include regulating and registering domestic purchase of "dual-use" equipment; further development of the public health system; federal incentives for research and development into chemical, biological, and toxin medicines, vaccines, countermeasures and detectors; informational public outreach programs to properly inform the public about the risks involved; and voluntary media codes. This report will be updated as circumstances warrant.
CRS Report for Congress, RL31669