Volgograd Pravda, November 2, 2001


Simply Try an Iron

Our Scientists Know Well How to Fight with Bacteriological Terrorism, but It Is Better for Us in this Matter to Rely on Ourselves

After the series of terrorists acts in our own country we have clearly made necessary adjustments, so that now when ownerless bags, packages and even stuffed animals are left out in the rain by their owners, we know to avoid that side, and even better, to shape up and a bomb expert or a policeman to inspect them. The great “American Tragedy”, of September 11 showed that it is possible to make us into the most terrifying weapon, adding to ourselves a civilian passenger plane and a Suicide Kamikadze. A few days later terrorists taught mankind another frightful lesson: an ordinary envelope, taken from one’s own post office box can be deadly dangerous.

God so far has protected Russian mail recipients from Anthrax, but he has not protected us from malicious pranksters. Powder, poured into envelopes sent on to two inhabitants of the Dzerzhinky and Ilovlinsky districts, for days stood the entire counter infectious disease institute on its ear. And after a careful investigation, it was explained that powder and other crushed material in the envelopes was not corrupted with any bacilli. For Volgograders (and I assume for others as well) there arose the resonating question: to what extent are we protected from the onset of biological terrorism?

To this theme was devoted the latest meeting of the community political organization, the Volgograd Forum, which was addressed by the Director for the Southern Center for Medical/Sanitary Assistance for Chemical Accidents and Viral/Bacterial Hygiene, Toxiology, and Pathology, SCMA, Boris Nikolaevich Filatov. The Center (formerly called the Institute of Hygiene) has been working on questions of biological terrorism since the Soviet era, when funds were allocated by a secret and closed governmental agency, according to stated “requirements.” Production in Volgograd of chemical weapons, (in particular paralyzing nerve gas) was considered so well organized that there was no possible fear of poisoning.

Since that time, much has changed. After the signing of the international Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention, the majority of testing at the institute has done away with the “secret” stamp, and its scientists have received the right to cooperate on an international level. At the same time the financial budget for this project has been drastically cut, forcing the search for independent means of survival. One of the first parties to become interested in the work of the Institute, tied in with the defense against chemical and biological terrorism, were the Americans, who offered financial help in exchange for the right to joint use of the program and its technology. The directors of the institute had to justify themselves in Moscow on the grounds that that such cooperation did not stem from treasonous motives, but rather to protect the scientists and the results of their work. And they did not know at the time that after the elapse of a short period, the results of their efforts would bear fruit in the form of a unique mathematical algorithm permitting the identification, to a high degree of reliability, of the character and origin of any functioning organism. This break through has been not simply called for but is essential to preserving life.

More relevant, on the fatal day for America, Boris Nikolaevich with his colleagues, was at a conference in Washington. More than anything he remembers how surprised he was that there was not any panic. The original shock soon turned into a sober discussion of how to conduct oneself. Again, traffic jams were not caused by a mood of panic, but by the police closing off the center of the city. One of the reasons for this outward calm, Filatov thinks, arose from the circumstance of complete disclosure to the population of what happened in New York and what measures the government was undertaking in this regard. Namely, when the people were convinced that they were receiving the truth, no matter how horrible, people were able to separate fact from fiction, the latter unavoidably arising from all sorts of rumors.

Therefore, it is likely that the Americans, as demonstrated in practice, showed themselves sufficiently prepared to rebuff the terrorists, in this instance bacteriological terrorists. Are we so prepared? On a theoretical level, thinks Filatov, the work of our scientists is second to none. However, on a practical level it can happen that the rescue of a drowning person, as always, is a matter in the hands of that drowning personal himself. And our danger is not only in that our science has existed on the edge of physical survival. The problem has been with us for a long time. The road from scientific theory to practical application has been in Russia (and before then in the USSR) too thorny and convoluted. Thus it has been: analyze and demonstrate the reason for the harm has always been possible, but to react in a proper way has always been beyond reach. There remains but to put our trust in the fact that in our committees for public health there are plans of action for emergency circumstances. There also exists a committee for civil defense (who remembers the last time when they put into our hands gas masks and taught us how to use them?), but the main defense has been that chemical terrorism has avoided us and our citizens have so far not received any poisonous envelopes. In any case, one practical piece of advice, which this writer managed to hear on the television and which Boris Nikolaevich confirmed in full: if, the anthrax story as happened to the Americans, is repeated here and you are afraid to unseal an envelope, simply run a hot iron between the envelope and a moist rag. After that the live bacilli will expire.

Posing a much more real risk today, believes Doctor Filatov, are problems of an ecological character. These are created in the city by the heavy hand of industrial giants. In this regard, not-withstanding the general consensus, the southern part of the city, Boris Nikolaevich believes, is less dangerous than the northern. ChemProm and Kaustik really pollute the air, but the danger emitting from them, is more than compensated by the aluminum factory. In the emergency action plan it is not at all necessary to fear the last of these, but those that seem to be inoffensive enterprises, such as the meat plant, the refrigeration plant and the reservoir. All these, like chemical plants, operate with chlorine, and for this kind of accident, if God forbid it should happen, we are poorly prepared.

Translator’s Note: In early December 2001, the US scuttled all proposals to implement an inspection regime to enforce the biological and Toxic Weapons Convention referred to above. The conservative British weekly , The Economist, editorialized in its issue of December 15, 2001:

“Alongside Mr. Bush’s refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, and his moves to scrap the ABM treaty, this was more than an undiplomatic blunder. It seems to represent a dangerous ideological aversion to any sort of binding arms control.”

Galina Belusova


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