A new report by the UPMC Center for Biosecurity suggests that the US remains unprepared for the task of decontaminating the site of a major biological weapon attack. Decontamination after the comparatively small-scale Anthrax attacks of 2001 is estimated to have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, while shuttering some facilities for as long as two years. By comparison, the costs of a larger scale attack on a major city could be staggering.
In particular, the report singles out several major problems:
– Multiple Federal agencies have potentially conflicting responsibilities in the aftermath of an attack. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation would be sampling the site for a criminal investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency would be working on decontamination and the Department of Health and Human Services (home of the Centers for Disease Control) would be tracking the epidemiology of any disease outbreak.
– Research into the problem is split between at least five federal agencies with major programs that examine decontamination. This work is also comparatively underfunded in the context of broader biodefense spending.
– A number of potentially crucial issues remain unanswered; there are limited techniques for taking samples of large, outdoor areas, and it is unclear how much danger there might be of further spreading infectious material during a cleanup effort.
The report calls for the government to clarify the roles of Federal agencies, as well as building owners, in the aftermath of an attack. It also recommends increased investment in research and infrastructure, especially trained first responder personnel.