Biological Weapons
    

Biow Home
Anthrax
Botulism
Vaccine

About the Author
Science Home

Gary Novak
biologist

 
          
Anthrax

As Disinformation

The Biology of the Subject


Propaganda on biological weapons including anthrax originates in the dark cellars of government for the purpose of swaying the public for increased police powers.

With the war in Iraq, the public is paying an expensive price for allowing themselves to be lied to instead of finding out the facts.


Disinformation in Media

An example of the disinformation is an article in a news weekly during the mid nineties. It listed each of the supposed terrorist weapons and the cost of producing them. For $10-20,000, terrorists could supposedly kill hundreds of thousands of persons with botulism toxin, anthrax, nerve gas, etc. "60 Minutes" had an expert who said biological weapons could be produced in someone's back yard in a five gallon bucket. They said anthrax spores released from a boat on the Hudson River could kill four hundred thousand persons in New York City.

Anthrax is Trivial

Here's the truth of the matter. Anthrax cannot be weaponized by terrorists, and it could probably never be used successfully as a military weapon. It has to be converted to spores suspended in the air, which is technically very difficult; and the lethality is nowheres near the terror that it is made out to be. It is not 100% lethal as often claimed. Wool sorters inhale anthrax spores in small quantities continually (150-700 per hour, or 510 per 8-hour shift), and only if they get a large dose does an infection get started.

Only US and Russia can Weaponize it

To use anthrax as a weapon, it must be converted to a powder which can be inhaled. Only the US and Russian militaries have succeeded in doing that. Even Iraq used anthrax in liquid form, which is totally ineffective.

Humans are Seldom Affected

Anthrax is a livestock pathogen. There are anthrax spores in the ground in rural areas, because they survive for several decades. They normally have no effect upon humans, because a few anthrax spores cannot create an infection, and they do not come up from the ground in large quantities.

Cellular Limitations

Anthrax is what's called a "gram positive" bacterium. This means it has the type of cell walls which are harmless, unlike the cell walls of "gram negative" bacteria, which attack tissue. Therefore, anthrax can only attack tissue by producing a special toxin which it excretes. One cell or spore does not produce enough toxin to start an infection.

Studies have apparently determined that, typically, ten thousand anthrax spores must be inhaled to start an infection. That number might be someone's guess, but it is in line with the biology of the disease. It is the number which the military uses, and only the military has significantly researched such questions. It uses gas chambers for animal tests.

Anthrax normally attacks the lungs, because it must lodge in vulnerable tissue. It can invade through other routes such as cuts or undercooked meat, but it only does so under third world conditions, and those routes are not relevant to biowarfare.

Livestock eat from the ground, so they have their faces in the ground where the spores are, and they can inhale ten thousand spores. How does anyone get ten thousand spores into the lungs of humans?

Technical Obstacles to Weaponizing

The first requirement would be to aerosolize the spores. The spores would have to be converted to a dry powder, because a liquid would create globs which would fall to the ground rather than staying suspended in the air.

To create a powder, the spores would first have to be washed several times in an array of very large and expensive centrifuges. Then a drying apparatus would have to be used; and it would require spraying a mist into a vacuum, which is how powders are created from liquids. Otherwise, everything globs up into hard rocks.

How do workers clean the equipment without getting spores everywhere? A likely procedure would be to enclose the equipment in a pressure chamber and steam sterilize it for several days. Such an operation costs hundreds of millions of dollars, considering related facilities and development. Only countries do that, not radical groups, and not in five gallon buckets.

It won't stay in the Air

Even in powder form, the spores would fall to the ground rapidly in the absence of wind. Anthrax is not adapted for airborne dissemination. It needs to stay on the ground until inhaled by livestock. So it would not stay in the air like mold spores but would fall out easily, about like flour. In the presence of wind, the spores would be carried away rapidly and would not stay in one place long enough for anyone to get more than a few inhaled.

Once the spores were on the ground, they would not affect humans significantly, because they would not come up from the ground in large enough quantities.

Foggers are Propaganda

There is some talk about using liquids with fogging devices for dispersion of biological agents such as anthrax. It's not realistic. First, there is no mention of the purity that would be required to prevent globbing and plugging of nozzles. At least, a lot of expensive centrifuging would be required to remove debris.

Then agricultural spraying demonstrates that a mist drops rapidly to the ground. It does that because air can only hold a small amount of water, which causes sprays to precipitate.

Another problem is that spores would rapidly settle to the bottom of a liquid and form a gum due to sticky cell debris and their tendency to clump.

A chemical mist is different, because chemicals vaporize, while cells do not. Cells in a mist would clump together as the liquid vaporizes. To create free spores would require very clean material, high dilution, ultra fine mist and a vacuum for rapid evaporation. Foggers can't do the same thing.

For these reasons, anthrax would be difficult to use; and it could hardly kill more than a few hundred persons under the most ideal conditions, not the hundreds of thousands which are claimed. On top of that, antibiotics are effective for it during the early stage of the illness. It is not contagious for humans.

Glib Journalism is Unrealistic

Innumerable journalists have been insisting that anthrax can be produced in a simple laboratory with little expertise. To the contrary, no countries but the U.S. and Russia can convert anthrax to a usable weapon. Iraq cannot.

Consider what the journalists fail to recognize. Growing a large quantity of anthrax would result in a fermenter full of slop which is extremely slimy and viscous with large amounts of debris and metabolic products mixed with the nutrient medium. That slop has to be washed and converted to a medium which will induce spores to form. Much research and knowledge would be required to get a reasonable yield of spores. Then the cells would have to be fragmented with something like a blender to get the spores out of the cells. Then much differential centrifugation would be required to separate the spores from the debris. Then spray drying of spores in a vacuum would be required.

Accomplishing all of that would require several Ph.Ds. and much developmental type research in addition to expensive equipment and a very large building. It isn't a matter of growing something in a kettle and pouring it into a rocket, as journalists and weapons inspectors seem to be assuming.

Grinding is Another Absurdity

The latest contrivance is that terrorists might weaponize anthrax by drying a slurry and grinding it to particles 1-5 microns in size. (The bacteria are 1 by 3 microns.)

The first problem is that the gunk would dry like glue or get as hard as a rock.

The second problem is that bacteria do not tolerate grinding. They are as fragile as egg shells. Grinding is how they are broken apart for biochemical tests. Even if only 1% were broken, the result would be a sticky gum, not a powder; and nearly all would be broken before getting 5 micron particles.

The US military does use a procedure which is sometimes called grinding. But it is a very gentle procedure, about like removing lumps from flour, not trying to break up something as hard as a rock.

Journalists keep mentioning how many anthrax spores can be gotten onto the head of a pin. It's not a question of how many can be gotten onto the head of a pin but how many can be gotten into someone's lungs.

Planes cannot Dust a City

A scenario which is often mentioned is that someone might use a plane to dust a large city with anthrax during the night. It's unrealistic. First, no one in buildings without external ventilation would be harmed by anthrax. The few spores that entered such buildings would settle on surfaces, and few would enter the air, and even fewer would be inhaled. At most, someone might inhale a few dozen spores per hour. That's not the ten thousand that are needed.

Secondly, anthrax spores would not diffuse uniformly through the air like a gas. They will either drop too fast or blow away. A few dozen persons might be killed, but that's not the terror that is being hyped in the media. And more than anything, nobody is producing the spores in powder form but the U.S. and Russia.

Journalists seem to assume that an anthrax cell anywhere will kill someone someplace. Putting words alongside each other on a page is not the same thing as getting cells into humans on the ground. There are millions of square miles of space on the ground which do not show up with the words.

Out in the open, tons would be required, not grams.

Iraq did not Weaponize Anthrax

Saddam Hussein is said to have produced anthrax. If so, the reason is because it is stable and easy to handle, not because it is effective when used. Iraq is unsophisticated to a point of ineptness in its approach to biological weapons.

It is said that Iraq uses anthrax in liquid form and puts it in missiles in liquid form. You would have to drink liquid anthrax for it to do any harm. It would be more effective to attack a city with used motor oil than with liquid anthrax. Therefore, Iraq poses no anthrax threat.

In fact, military and UN inspectors only found two Iraqi warheads with anthrax in them (in liquid form). If Iraq had anthrax in an effective form, it would have had it in hundreds of warheads, as they did with nerve gas. So Iraq knew its anthrax was useless.

For about a billion dollars, Iraq could probably get enough experts together to develop anthrax as a weapon. But the reason why it doesn't is that researchers already know that anthrax would be next to worthless after it was developed.

The Whole Concept is Flawed

Biological warfare is a flawed concept. The only route usually considered is airborne, because bombs and missiles create the delivery system. There is no disease in existence which is propagated in that manner. Even the airborne diseases require close contact with the source. The reason is because wind disperses the agents too thinly, and gravity brings them down too rapidly. Increasing the quantities massively will get a few persons, but only a few.

And then, very few of the diseases which are mentioned as biowarfare agents are suitable for airborne dissemination. Brucellosis is not. It is disseminated through body fluids. Plague is not. It is carried by insects from the blood of one animal to another. The insects do not pick it up from the ground.

Motives Taylor the Truth at every Level

Biowarfare is promoted through a combination of ignorance and propaganda. The researchers, who should know better and often do, are getting paid to produce the agents, so they do not want to admit the futility of it. The nonresearchers cannot realistically evaluate the claims, and they have propaganda motives. They want to militarize society, and scare tactics go a long ways in that direction.

The point here is not that large countries cannot make a lot of persons miserable with biological weapons. It's that the small countries and terrorists cannot do so on their own; and it cannot be done on a large scale and in some magical way as described in the media.

Laboratory Strains are Worthless

Bureaucrats keep talking about someone stealing laboratory cultures of anthrax. Bioweapons cannot be created from laboratory strains of microbes. Microbes undergo rapid attenuation under laboratory conditions, because repeated transfers on culture media results in rapid genetic drift, as adaptation to laboratory conditions occurs. Virulence is rapidly diminished. The lost genes cannot be recovered. Therefore, serious bioweapons researchers would always start with wild type strains. Anyone who starts with a laboratory strain is not going to be effective.

Testing and controlling virulence requires an animal laboratory with about a hundred employees. It's not something that can be done in a five gallon bucket.


The Anthrax Attack

Numerous persons have asked me how I interpret the anthrax attacks after 9-11. I think the incident verifies the points that I made. About a dozen persons were stricken by anthrax instead of the millions which authorities were predicting upon a terrorist attack. It shows that anthrax is almost impossible to use effectively.

The terrorists may have succeeded in creating a lot of fear, but for casualties, guns would have been more effective.

The incident does not show that terrorists can weaponize anthrax. The weaponized powder came from the US weapons labs, as demonstrated by a chemical which was on it. See News Article.

Page 2 on Anthrax

External Link:
Illegal Research