Terrorism: Background on Chemical, Biological, and Toxin Weapons and Options for Lessening Their Impact [Updated December 1, 2004] [open pdf - 84KB]
"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 (WMD) includes chemical, biological, and toxin weapons. Chemical, biological, and toxin weapons pose additional concerns beyond mass casualties. These weapons may contaminate the area in which they are used, emergency vehicles, and first responders. The wide array of potential symptoms from chemical, biological, and toxin weapons makes identification of the causal agent difficult and complicates treatment. Additionally, public fears relating to disease and poisoning could increase the effect of a chemical, biological, or toxin attack, as worried, unexposed people request treatment from medical facilities. In extreme cases, public hysteria has been postulated as an outcome from mass dissemination. Several initiatives are underway to reduce the potential value of chemical, biological, and toxin weapons. One approach has been through funding significant increases in the public health system's preparedness and response capacity. Additionally, facilities and researchers possessing 'select agents' have been registered in a national database. 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."
CRS Report for Congress, RL31669
U.S. State Department: http://www.state.gov/