NYC: Bio-chem warfare tests held

The bio-chemical warfare tests in New York City, initially scheduled for two days ago, went ahead today. New York’s ABC News reports Aug. 8 that scientists in midtown Manhattan used perfluorocarbon, “a harmless gas,” which was tracked with electronic monitors. The so-called Urban Dispersal Program was carried out by the Homeland Security Department with the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Energy Department’s Long Island-based Brookhaven National Laboratory. Technicians hope to produce a computerized model of air-flow patterns that could help authorities decide where and how to evacuate people in a bioterrorist attack. The test was carried out in an area from 61st to 36th streets and from 10th to Third avenues. Officials would not disclose the locations where the gas was released or the monitoring points, but ABC stated: “The gases were released at two locations near Rockefeller Center, one near Times Square and one on a subway platform at 50th Street and Broadway, serving the No. 1 line.” Similar studies have already been conducted in Salt Lake City and Oklahoma.

For those who know their Cold War history, this invokes an uneasy sense of deja vu. The Federation of American Scientists page on Biological Weapons notes:

Cities were unwittingly used as laboratories to test aerosolization and dispersal methods; Aspergillus fumigatus, B. subtilis var. globigii, and Serratia marcescens were used as simulants and released during experiments in New York City, San Francisco, and other sites. Concerns regarding potential public health hazards of simulant studies were raised after an outbreak of nosocomial S. marcescens (formerly Chromobacterium prodigiosum) urinary tract infections at Stanford University Hospital between September 1950 and February 1951, following covert experiments using S. marcescens as a simulant in San Francisco. A report from the Centers for Disease Control completed in 1977 found no association between reported morbidity and mortality from pneumonia and influenza and local simulant experiments.

The irony is that what the government had to do covertly during the Cold War it is now able to do overtly in the post-9-11 atmosphere…

  1. Maybe not so harmless…
    Writes Jonathan Bennett of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) in response to an AP story on the tests in the Aug. 8 Daily News:

    The “harmless” nameless gas in question is either sulfur hexafluoride or perfluorocarbon or a mixture of them (you could look it up in the Homeland Security Department’s website). Sulfur hexaflouride can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. It can damage the liver and the kidneys. It is a violation of OSHA regulations to expose someone to more than 1000 parts per million averaged over 8 hours. OSHA standards are designed to protect healthy workers, not people with compromised livers, kidneys or respiratory systems. Harmless? Perflourocarbon is a potent greenhouse gas, covered by the Kyoto protocol. Oh, I forgot. Global warming, like evolution, is a myth.

    Actually, the multi-agency Urban Dispersal Program has its own webpage, which states:

    Only safe, inert perfluorocarbon and sulfur hexafluoride tracers will be released to track air movement.
    Perfluorocarbon and sulfur hexafluoride tracers are safely used internationally by scientists and industry.