A new study finds that the air you breathe could be teeming with more than
1,800 types of bacteria. Rebecca Williams reports the research might help
protect against bioterrorist attacks:
A new study finds that the air you breathe could be teeming with
more than 1,800 types of bacteria. Rebecca Williams reports the
research might help protect against bioterrorist attacks:
This is the first time researchers have used DNA sequencing to study
bacteria in the air. They wanted to find out what’s normal and what’s
Federal officials are hoping to improve on the way they test the air for
potential bioterrorism agents.
Gary Andersen is the lead author of the study… published in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He says the
current monitoring system tests the air above most major U.S. cities
for specific pathogens. He says the new research will make that
“To see not just whether or not these specific handful of pathogens
were present but what actually was the microbial composition in the
air and that also may give some clue to as whether things are normal
or suspicious circumstances.”
Andersen says the research will make it clearer whether or not people
are actually in danger.
Mock evidence of radiological material to make a dirty bomb gives trainees an idea of the kind of materials they might find in a terrorist operation. (Photo by Lester Graham)
A lab mocked up to resemble a terrorist operation making sarin nerve agent. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Environmental Protection Agency response vehicles include equipment to detect all sorts of material that might be released by terrorists. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Since 9/11, emergency responders have been practicing for new kinds of emergencies. In addition to fires and hazardous materials spills, emergency personnel have been training to deal with terrorist attacks. Recently, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham was allowed behind the scenes in a terrorism attack training exercise:
Since 9/11, emergency responders have been practicing for new kinds of emergencies. In
addition to fires and hazardous materials spills, emergency personnel have been training
to deal with terrorist attacks. Recently, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Graham was allowed behind the scenes in a terrorism attack training exercise:
These two men are the victims of some kind of biological toxin. They were investigating
an abandoned rental truck and now they’re writhing on the ground after a package
spewed some kind of liquid.
(chatter between mock victims) “You alright, man?” “What was that?” “I don’t know
what that was. It hurts.”
These guys are acting. They’re part of a huge training exercise put on by the
Environmental Protection Agency. Dozens of firefighters, emergency medical personnel,
EPA investigators, the FBI and people in t-shirts identifying themselves with acronyms
for agencies most of us have never heard of. They’re all working through a couple of
scenarios. So far today, they’ve discovered radioactive material to make dirty bombs and
some kind of lab set up to make a chemical like sarin nerve gas… and then there’s the
rental truck which is loaded with nasty chemicals.
Mark Durno is the U.S. EPA’s On-Scene Coordinator…
“We have some very distinct objectives with this exercise. One is to practice responding
to unusual situations that might involve weapons of mass destruction. In this particular
exercise, we’re practicing chemical agent and radiological agent response.”
There are lots of new things to learn. Coordination between agencies… and new
techniques. In this exercise, Detroit city departments are learning to work with federal
agencies. Melvin Green is with the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services. He
says this exercise is good. He’d rather see his medical technicians make mistakes here
than during a real emergency… where his worst fears might be realized.
“I would have to say that, you know, them become casualties, that’s probably my biggest
fear. This is why we want to educate them on—and this is why the exercise is so
important. We want to educate them on the possibilities. Keeping our people safe
That’s because if the emergency medical personnel are hurt… fewer people will be
The idea of a terrorist attack with radiological or biological agents is the kind of
nightmarish scenario that no one really wants to think about… but it’s something
emergency responders HAVE to think about.
During this day-long exercise… these trainees are upbeat, they’re confident in their
response. They feel they’ve come a long way in the nearly three years since 9/11.
But other emergency service experts are not quite as upbeat. Just 40 miles from this
training exercise… at the University of Michigan Hospital’s Department of Emergency
Medicine, Administrator Peter Forster says there are weaknesses in preparedness for
“We’ve made a lot of progress from where we were, but we’ve got a long ways to go.”
Forster says when victims start showing up at the hospital emergency rooms…. there will
“Most emergency preparedness activities have been geared toward local events with
relatively small numbers of victims. When we start talking about hundreds of people or
thousands of people injured or hurt, or exposed to some toxic or contagious substance,
then I think the health system would have a significantly difficult time expanding to meet
that requirement, regardless of how much, uh, how well we’re trained or how prepared
we are. We don’t really have the capacity on the health care side to manage a significant
influx of patients.”
Forster says plans to set up emergency medical facilities in auditoriums, school gyms,
and maybe even hotel rooms need to be completed… arrangements made… and supplies
(sound up of training exercise, generators, etc.)
Meanwhile, back in Detroit… investigators are putting on bulky chemical protection
suits—the ones that look like big space suits…blue, yellow, olive, with teal-colored
gloves and orange boots… you’d think of circus colors if the subject matter weren’t so
serious. After examining the mock lab, spending about an hour in the sweltering suits,
they come out for decontamination before their air tanks run out. The local agencies help
with decontamination… spraying and scrubbing the suits down.
(sound: beeping, scrubbing)
The training site has all the sights and sounds of a real emergency. Lots of emergency
vehicles… the noise of generators and the smell of diesel. But it’s fairly relaxed. There’s
none of the tension, none of the urgency of a real emergency.
The U.S. EPA’s On-Scene Coordinator, Mark Durno, says there are some things you
can’t bring to a drill…
“You can never simulate the adrenaline and the potential panic that’s associated with a
real event, especially when you hear the words ‘chemical’ and ‘radiological’ agent.
However, we can practice those little tools that we’re going to need to be absolutely
proficient at to ensure that when the panic hits, we’re ready to roll without any
The days’ training has turned up a few glitches. Communication between agencies is
still a problem. Emergency radio frequencies need to be sorted out and coordinated. And
there are still some major gaps in preparedness that are not part of this training… such as
the emergency room capacity problem. But one of the bigger issues is money. Federal
money has been promised to local governments… but it’s been very slow in coming.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
An artist's rendition of the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health (image courtesy of DCPAH).
A new animal diagnostic laboratory being built in the Great Lakes region will help farmers and veterinarians get quicker answers about what’s making their animals sick. The lab will also be one of only a handful in the Midwest certified to work with potentially lethal biological agents and infectious diseases. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
A new animal diagnostic laboratory being built in the Great Lakes region will help
farmers and veterinarians get quicker answers about what’s making their animals sick.
The lab will also be one of only a handful in the Midwest certified to work with
potentially lethal biological agents and infectious diseases. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a huge cream-colored building
with green windows. It’s nestled among corn fields and campus dairy farms. When it
opens early next year, Michigan State University’s new animal diagnostic lab will test
thousands of animal samples every week. It’ll be one of the first lines of defense against
animal diseases that are spreading quickly through the Midwest. Testing for Chronic
Wasting Disease, West Nile Virus and Bovine Tuberculosis has already clogged many
labs in the region.
Right now, Michigan State’s ten animal diagnostic services are scattered in outdated labs
all across campus. Every day, the labs take in hundreds of samples from all over the
region. Some are entire animals – dead because of some disease or infection. Others are
just parts of animals – a liver or a piece of muscle.
These veterinary students are trying to find out why two pigs from two different farms
died. One had swollen joints and a high temperature. The other one was anorexic.
(ambient sound: “So have you taken your specimens already?”)
William Reed is the director of Michigan State’s Diagnostic Center for Population and
Animal Health. He says the current labs were built 30 years ago, and were never designed
to be used in the way they are now.
“For example, we need state of the art laboratories that have special air handling
capability. We have to be concerned about protecting the workers, we have to be
concerned about containment of the different pathogens that we work on. And it’s just not
proper to continue to run the kind of analyses in the kinds of facilities that we have.”
Besides dealing with various communicable diseases, the new laboratory will also help
the country build up its defense against bioterrorism. The lab will be one of only a few
facilities in the Midwest that’s classified Biosafety-Level 3. That means scientists are
certified to work with deadly biological pathogens and viruses, such as anthrax and
smallpox. Lab Director William Reed says it’s important there are more labs to handle
biological threats to animals and people.
“We will be able to address some of the agents of bioterrorism and it’s likely that we
would join forces with the federal government in addressing any introduction of a foreign
animal disease, whether intentionally or by accident. Particularly, some of the agents that
terrorists would want to use to harm animal agriculture in the U.S.”
University officials say the new Biosafety-3 lab would be safe and secure. People who
work in the high-containment area get special training and have to follow strict safety
There’s been strong opposition to similar bio-defense labs in other parts of the country.
So far, there’s been no sign of opposition to the Michigan State lab.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention won’t say exactly how many Biosafety-3
labs there are in the region because of security concerns. But there are reportedly two in
Ohio, and several others are being considered in the Midwest.
Randall Levings is the director of the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames,
Iowa. He says the Michigan State University lab will help the federal government build a
bigger network of labs that can quickly deal with a serious outbreak.
“And the whole concept behind that is to have not only more laboratories that can work
with some of these agents, but the concept is also that it would be better to have a
laboratory with that kind of capacity close to the outbreak.”
Levings says another biosafety lab in the Great Lakes region makes sense. That’s because
of the large number of livestock farms, and the proximity to Canada, where there have
been recent outbreaks of animal and human diseases.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.
An artist's rendition of the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health (image courtesy of DCPAH).
A new animal laboratory in the Great Lakes region will be certified to work with deadly biological agents and infectious diseases. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
A new animal laboratory in the Great Lakes region will be certified to work with deadly
biological agents and infectious diseases. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin
When it opens early next year, the new animal lab at Michigan State University will be
certified as a Biosafety-Level 3 facility. That means it’ll be able to test for deadly
communicable diseases, such as Chronic Wasting Disease, and bioterrorism agents, such
Randall Levings is director of the National Veterinary Services Laboratory. He says the
new facility adds to a growing network of sophisticated labs able to deal with serious
“It could be crucial in terms of quickly defining what areas have it and which ones don’t
so that you can start putting your control measures in place to contain the outbreak and
limit its impact.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention won’t say how many other Biosafety-3
labs there are in the Midwest because of security concerns. However, two others are
reportedly in Ohio.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.
In times of crisis and sadness, many people find solace in America's wild places (above: Lake Superior coastline). Photo courtesy of Dave Hansen.
It’s been three months since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Many people find they’re still trying to come to terms with their feelings about the attacks. Some people, though, have found solace in a walk through nature. For them, wild places have become a respite from the chaos of emotions. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
It’s been three months since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. Many people find they’re still trying to come to terms with their feelings about the attacks. For some though, they’ve found solace in a walk through nature. For them wild places have become a respite from the chaos of emotions. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
The September 11th attacks left many people bewildered. How could it happen? Why did so many people have to die? People question their own safety. They worry about the safety of their family and their friends, the disturbing images of the planes crashing, the buildings collapsing, and the threats of bio-terrorism since then. They’re all hard to comprehend. The terrorism has been such a shock, that some people found they need space to think, to try to wrap their heads around what had happened.
Often that space, it turns out, is green. In New York, almost immediately after the attacks, many people found themselves drawn to the Gateway National Recreation Area not far from Manhattan where the twin towers of the World Trade Center had stood. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton says people went there, searching for a break from the intensity of the events.
“After the attacks, the number of people flocking to Gateway skyrocketed. Park employees say visitors told them that they wanted a place to get away from the television, to be alone, and even to cry.”
People around the nation did much the same thing. Many other parks have been reporting higher numbers of visitors. Park staff say people tell them they feel drawn to the peaceful settings; Many of them heading into nature just to escape the scenes repeated over and over again on television.
Richard Nelson is a writer in Alaska. He says he’s not surprised people are returning to parks and places outdoors. In the days following September 11th, he wrote an article for Orion-on-line-dot-org about his own need to go to nature. In it, he wrote the only way he had found release from “the almost unbearable weight of grief and fear is to take myself out into the wild places, where I can find the embrace of peace, where I can see that the world goes on as always.” Nelson says when the human world looks ugly, nature has a way of reminding people that there’s still beauty.
“I can’t do away with that grief I feel about the enormous losses of September 11th. I can’t eliminate that from myself. But, I can balance it against this great bright sanity of the earth itself. This is why I think we need these wild places, why they are so vital for us is because it’s where we find balance.”
For some people the balance means finding deeper meaning in nature, reveling in the survival of an old tree that’s been around longer than the memories of past horrors, but still stands unbowed, or discovering a tiny flower that’s bloomed despite a hard freeze and winter’s onslaught.
Of course, finding that respite in nature is not unique to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Long before the attacks, writer Wendell Berry wrote a poem entitled “The Peace of Wild Things.” In it he expresses that comfort that many people recently have found again.
“When despair in the world grows for me
And I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.”
To a psychologist, finding this freedom in places that seem constant and reliable is a perfectly natural reaction. Shannon Lynch is a clinical psychologist at Western Illinois University. She says while some people might be drawn to other people for comfort and understanding…others will be drawn to green spaces for reassurance.
“When you choose to go and be outside or you choose to go somewhere so you can feel ‘real,’ I’d say you’re coping. You’re reminding yourself that even in this time, there are places that you can feel safe, that you can feel connected, that you can be in green space to feel at peace. We might go out and be in green space to remind ourselves that we’re good adventurers and we get through tough times, that we’re survivors. There are lots of reasons. This idea that you’re real, that your surroundings are real and that they’re predictable. That you’re going to go on a hike and you can know what’s going to happen there.”
It can give people the right atmosphere and the time to help them deal with the feelings and the emotions that might have disturbed them since the attacks.
For writer Richard Nelson, the constant rhythm of nature helps remind him that not everything in life has been marred by mankind’s violence.
“Wild places are where I find my peace and solace and relief from the sort of pressures and the darkness of the news. It seems to me whenever I go to someplace wild I’m able to absorb myself in positive and beautiful things. When I go out to the meadows or to the seacoast or to the meadows somewhere. I. I don’t know, it just…everything else seems to fade into some kind of irrelevance. And, I feel as if my damaged soul gets healed when I’m out there.”
Nelson stresses that he’s not saying a walk in the park will solve the world’s problems or your own feelings about them. But, he says, the nature found there might just be enough of a reminder that life endures, for many people to find a way to rekindle their hope for mankind. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Lester Graham.
Scientists who monitor pollutants in rain and snow in the U.S. are offering their monitoring network to be used in the event of a wide scale bioterrorist attack. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein has more:
Scientists who monitor pollutants in rain and snow in the U.S. and Great Lakes are offering their monitoring network to be used in the event of a wide scale bioterrorist attack. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein has more.
The National Atmospheric Deposition Program is best known for its early detection of acid rain in the 1970s. It has a network of over 200 sites that measure chemicals like sulfur dioxides and mercury in precipitation. But coordinator Van Bowersox says the network could also be used in the case of an environmental emergency to trace things like anthrax spore.
“To help track perhaps the source of the material or perhaps just how wide dispersed the material may be. So this would be, for example, for a widespread release of a bioterrorism agent over a broad area.”
Bowersox says the samples of such agents would be sent to a special laboratory for analysis.
The idea wouldn’t be an unprecedented use for the network. The NADP surveyed the nation’s atmosphere for nucleotides following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It also measured the amount of particles in the air after the eruption of Mount St. Helens.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.
State health departments, emergency management agencies and doctors throughout the Great Lakes region are re-examining their emergency plans after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Officials say they need to increase their planning to prepare for a bioterrorist attack. Such an attack could mean the release of deadly diseases into a general population and officials say there’s no way the public health structure could handle such an outbreak right now. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tom Scheck has more:
State health departments, emergency management agencies and doctors throughout the Great Lakes region are re-examining their emergency plans after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Officials say they need to increase their planning to prepare for a bioterrorist attack. Such an attack could mean the release of deadly diseases into a general population and officials say there’s no way the public health structure could handle such an outbreak right now. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tom Scheck reports…
As the nation tries to recover from the terrorist attacks in Pennsylvania, New York and Washington DC, infectious disease experts are using the tragedies to highlight that the nation’s skies and borders are not the only things the federal government needs to worry about. Those experts say the nation needs to also start preparing for a bioterrorist attack. The University of Minnesota’s Michael Osterholm is one of the leading experts on infectious disease and bioterrorism in the nation. He says it’s unlikely that a terrorist is equipped at this time to release a deadly disease like anthrax or small pox. But he says the events on Tuesday, September 11th have redefined terrorism in the United States. And he says the country is currently ill equipped to handle a biological outbreak.
“We’re a country right now, that if we have a slight increase of influenza cases in the wintertime we close down our hospitals because we have no excess capacity, we don’t have the health care workers or the beds. Now you tell me, given that backdrop, what it will mean when 250 or 300,000 or 400,000 people suddenly come down with smallpox or anthrax.”
Osterholm says if those biologic agents, or others like them are released in an American city, it could, over time, make thousands of people sick. And he says the highly contagious diseases would rapidly transfer from person to person, making it difficult for doctors and public health officials to contain the outbreak. On top of that, Osterholm says most such diseases wouldn’t show their symptoms for 3 or four days. He says that could stretch the state’s public health departments thin as they try to track down who’s infected and who’s not.
“We run much of public health in this country on what I would call the equivalent of running O’Hare air traffic control tower on tin cans and string. Yet that’s going to be the system that’s going to respond to bioterrorism.”
Osterholm and others are lobbying the federal government to allocate billions of dollars to improve the community response rates of public health and emergency personnel throughout the country. He also says the country needs to start stockpiling vaccines for smallpox and anthrax. Since the last human case of small pox was eradicated in 1979,
Osterholm says officials haven’t seen the need to continue vaccinating against the disease. Anthrax, on the other hand, has a vaccine but can also be treated with antibiotics if the disease is caught early enough.
The threat of a bioterrorist attack is not only worrying public health officials but also the emergency room doctors who will be treating infected patients. In addition to running the risk of contracting the same infections they’re treating, emergency room doctors say the threat of bioterrorism adds to an already busy schedule of treating cuts, gashes and gun shot wounds. Now physicians, like Pat Lilja who works at North Memorial Medical Center in the Twin Cities, say they have to watch out for rare illnesses as well; for instance, rare flu-like cases in the summer.
“You don’t know about it until people three or four or five days later suddenly start coming into hospitals sick. So you don’t have this big, all of a sudden, something’s going on. What you have to rely upon are your hospitals, primarily your emergency departments, to say we’ve seen twenty patients today all with this same problem and we usually see one a month.”
Lilja and other emergency room physicians’ say they’ve been conducting mock drills of biological and chemical disasters to prepare for any outbreaks. But he says the emergency plans at many hospitals are stuck on the dusty shelves of an administrator too worried about a declining budget rather than an event that they think could never occur. That worries Randall Larson, the director of the Anser Institute for Homeland Security in Virginia. He says hospitals need to increase their security and monitoring methods to make sure they catch any outbreak that does occur.
“We mad e a decision in this country that we didn’t want the federal government or the state government running our hospitals. They’re private corporations. Thirty percent of them are in the red today. Fifty percent of our teaching hospitals are in the red. They don’t have time to do the exercises and the training they need to be prepared to respond to a biological or a chemical attack. They got to just keep the doors open and stay out of the red.”
Larsen and others say the new federal office of Homeland Security needs to make bioterrorism a priority in the coming years. He says the FBI, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and doctors need to coordinate their efforts to make sure they respond quickly to a biological or chemical outbreak. He says the responsiveness is just as critical for those who work in public health as the quickness expected from a police officer or a firefighter. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tom Scheck.
The gulf war highlighted the fact that biological weapons are a real
and serious threat to human health. But only recently has a related
danger come to light: That is, the possibility of bioterrorists
targeting plants and animals and affecting the food supply. As the
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports, plant pathologists
gathered in Montreal this month (August) to talk about protecting
agriculture from bioterrorism: