By Janet Fang
Posting in Cities
Department of Homeland Security researchers released a cloud of bacteria into a subway tunnel underneath the Boston area.
Letters laced with anthrax bacteria started showing up in letters delivered by the post office in the wake of 9/11. Five people died. In 2003, the US government launched a $1 billion anti-bioterror program called BioWatch.
And just recently, BioWatch researchers released a cloud of bacteria into a subway tunnel underneath the Boston area. Hal Hodson reports for New Scientist.
It’s 3 a.m., and the subway station has long since shut for the night. A team of researchers from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is testing whether their new detection equipment could work as an early warning system if a deadly agent like anthrax was released into a city's metro network.
After one train leaves, they release a batch of dead Bacillus subtilis bacteria, which go on to form a harmless cloud that wafts through the tunnel towards downtown Boston. The air in front of an inbound train pushes it onward.
About a year ago, BioWatch set up sensors to monitor air around the clock in 30 cities. They’ve been measuring background levels of biological material -- one of the keys to avoiding the false positives that have dogged previous bio-sensing systems.
The gray sensor boxes, called triggers, are atop metal racks at 4 points along this particular platform. Similar commercially available systems count biological particles as they pass through a beam of light inside the box. Anything over the background level will send a signal that activates a bright red box at the end of the station. That’s called a confirmer.
Anne Hultgren with DHS miniaturized the equipment needed to identify DNA – that way, air filters that are collected every day don’t need to be brought into a lab. Now, it all happens on-site with the suitcase-sized box, whenever the triggers detect unusual quantities of a biological agent. They’re aiming to do in 20 minutes what used to take 2 days.
When the next train pulls in to this station, the sensors at the next stop down the line should be able to detect the bacteria. "The confirmer collected a sample and about 30 minutes after the release we had a positive detection of the material at a station over a mile away down the track," Hultgren explains.
The tests will continue for 5 months, helping the DHS understand how biological agents move around the subway under different conditions, such as when the weather is colder.
The government is currently deciding whether to spend an extra $3.1 billion over the next 5 years to keep the program going.
[From New Scientist]
Image by soelin via Flickr
Sep 12, 2012
The Soviets were known to have bio-weapon programs during the Cold War but, apparently, it's up to DHS to develop defenses now, many years later
Do we trust 1) that they will make absolutely no mistakes the stuff is dead, 2) it will be completely certain that no other bacteria is accidentally substituted, 3) that these dead bacteria are positively not contaminated with other bacteria, 4) that the vials are labeled correctly, 5) there are no interests along the chain of handling of the substance who may want to do any of the above deliberately, 6) they actually can eliminate bodily searches, 7) that controlling Orwellian government interests, hell-bent on creating a race of compliant workers and consumers are not actually inculcating the air with something more insidious than dead Baccillus subtilis 8) absolutely positively, undeniably and reliably in our government, which has been known to lie to us? If the answer to all of the above is a resounding "Yes!", then fine, it is a good idea.
Best to detect the actual danger. More effective than trying to watch every human being in case there might be a danger from one of them. The bacteria DNA detectors are a fantastic improvement.
Whatever the outcome, terrorists will just move elsewhere in the UK where it is not monitored. Unfortunately you cannot protect people in this way, and anyone who thinks so is bonkers/full of sh1t. - Glasgow underground, Stratford olympic park shopping centre, a large gathering of people in a concert venue, an underground car park, a large office building, a largw school/university etc ad nauseum with likely targets the air-handling systems for this sort of speculated attack.
As part of the testing they ran trains through the various stations rigged for the testing. The only people on them were the drivers. One unconfirmed report to a local TV station said the train drivers were in biohazard suits for the tests. Allegedly to test driver exposure levels and to provide a hazmat training opportunity for first responders.