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  • Sensors make sense?

    PHILADELPHIA (AP) - At secret locations in at least 31 cities,
    the government has deployed devices that scour the air for deadly
    agents like anthrax and smallpox with hopes of sniffing out
    bioterrorism. But the effort has been viewed with skepticism.
    Some security experts said the system is unlikely to catch a
    bioterrorism attack in time to save many lives. And they said it is
    powerless to spot an attack in an enclosed area, like an airport
    terminal or subway line, and unable to detect attacks unless they
    are big enough to scatter over several blocks.
    "If you saw planes going over and releasing major clouds of
    this stuff, there's a chance that people would get suspicious a
    long time before anybody checked the filters," said Jacqueline
    Cattani, director of the Center for Biological Defense at the
    University of South Florida.
    The sensors have been in place since early spring, and while the
    government won't say exactly where, regional health officials
    confirmed the list includes Philadelphia, New York, Washington, San
    Diego, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and St. Louis.
    The White House in January said the "Biowatch" monitoring
    system would cost about $1 million annually per city.
    In participating cities, filters within the machines are removed
    daily and immediately analyzed for spores and chemicals that could
    have been dumped from a plane or building and left to drift in the
    air.
    If an attack was close enough to a sensor, authorities could
    know about it within 12 hours, according to Bob Bostock, homeland
    security chief for the Environmental Protection Agency. That is
    much faster than it would take people exposed to anthrax to develop
    symptoms, he said.
    "The main advantage or having a system like Biowatch is that
    prior to it being rolled out, the only real way to tell if a
    biological agent had been released was to see if people started
    turning up sick or worse," Bostock said. "By knowing in advance
    that a contaminant has been released, you can start treating it
    before symptoms develop."
    Much about the system is being kept secret; The government won't
    say who makes the detectors, how much they cost, or what they look
    like. Officials also won't say which labs are analyzing the
    detectors' filters, other than to say that some are operated by
    state health departments.
    If a filter tests positive for a particle, scientists can
    estimate where it came from, based on its physical properties,
    Bostock said.
    The system, though, has plenty of critics.
    Calvin Chue, a researcher at the Center for Civilian Biodefense
    Strategies at Johns Hopkins University, said the cost of testing
    and replacing the filters daily will be high and the probability of
    spotting a contaminant low. He also said the results will be
    difficult to confirm, especially in polluted cities or places where
    natural organisms found in the air can give false-positive results.
    Researchers who studied what would happen if someone dropped 2.2
    pounds of anthrax from a tall building in New York said the sensors
    could save lives, but only if officials detected an attack
    immediately and instantly began distributing medication.
    Stanford Business School professor Lawrence Wein said in that
    scenario, the number of dead could be cut from 120,000 to 70,000 if
    sensors detected an attack within six hours. He said deaths could
    be cut to 50,000 if the government allowed people to stockpile
    antidotes ahead of time.
    Bostock, of the EPA, wouldn't discuss how the detectors have
    performed so far, but he said the monitors have neither detected an
    attack, nor produced the type of false-positive reading that
    triggers an emergency response.
    "We have a high degree of confidence in the results we have
    been getting," he said.
    The EPA, he noted, has used similar sensors to monitor air
    pollution for decades.
    "It's not like, with a sensor like this, you have to have one
    on every street corner," he said. "We have quite a bit of
    experience in terms of how things move in the air."
    ---
    On the Net:
    EPA: http://www.epa.gov

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

    *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
    On the web at www.section2wildfire.com

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