High-Threat Chemical Agents: Characteristics, Effects, and Policy Implications

CRS Report for Congress
High-Threat Chemical Agents:
Characteristics, Effects, and
Policy Implications
Updated September 9, 2003
Dana A. Shea
Analyst in Science and Technology Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

High-Threat Chemical Agents: Characteristics, Effects,
and Policy Implications
Terrorist use of chemical agents has been a noted concern, highlighted after the
Tokyo Sarin gas attacks of 1995. The events of September 11, 2001, increased
Congressional attention towards reducing the vulnerability of the United States to
such attacks. High-threat chemical agents, which include chemical weapons and
some toxic industrial chemicals, are normally organized by military planners into
four groups: nerve agents, blister agents, choking agents, and blood agents. While
the relative military threat posed by the various chemical types has varied over time,
use of these chemicals against civilian targets is viewed as a low probability, high
consequence event.
High-threat chemical agents, depending on the type of agent used, cause a
variety of symptoms in their victims. Some cause death by interfering with the
nervous system. Some inhibit breathing and lead to asphyxiation. Others have
caustic effects on contact. As a result, chemical attack treatment may be complicated
by the need to identify at least the type of chemical used. Differences in treatment
protocols for the various high-threat agents may also strain the resources of the public
health system, especially in the case of mass casualties. Additionally, chemical
agents trapped on the body or clothes of victims may place first responders and
medical professionals at risk.
Protection from and detection of chemical agents is an area of much concern.
The range of protection and detection equipment available to first responders has led
to questions regarding equipment standardization and state and local preparedness.
Whether terrorist groups are capable of using chemical agents as weapons of
mass destruction is unclear. Some have asserted that the volumes of chemicals
required to cause mass casualties would make that scenario unlikely. They claim that
chemical terrorism is more likely to be small in scale. Others have suggested that
there has been an increase in terrorist interest regarding chemical agents, and that this
interest could lead to their use in terrorist attacks.
Current policies seek to reduce the proliferation of chemicals that could be
transformed into chemical weapons, prevent unrestricted access to large amounts of
toxic chemicals, provide federal assistance to locations that are affected by chemical
terrorism, and support research and development activities. It is expected that the
Department of Homeland Security will take a major role in federal policy efforts.
Additional measures suggested for addressing potential chemical terrorism
vulnerabilities include further restricting domestic access to precursor chemicals and
technologies required to manufacture high-threat chemical agents; directing
continued research and development into selective, sensitive chemical agent
detectors; implementing air monitoring equipment to detect chemical releases in, for
example, public transportation or urban spaces; and overseeing further research into
protective equipment, prophylaxis, and treatment against high-threat chemicals. This
report will be updated as circumstances warrant.

In troduction ......................................................1
What Are High-Threat Chemical Agents?...............................1
Types of Chemical Agents...........................................2
Nerve Agents.................................................2
Blister Agents.................................................4
Choking Agents...............................................6
Blood Agents.................................................7
Protection Against Chemical Agents...................................8
Physical .....................................................8
Medical .....................................................9
Decontamination ..............................................9
Detection of Chemical Agents.......................................10
Public Health Monitoring......................................12
Chemical Agents as Weapons of Terror Rather Than as
Weapons of Mass Destruction...................................12
Current Policy...................................................15
Export Control...............................................15
Industry Self-regulation........................................15
Research and Development.....................................16
Biomedical Research......................................17
Increasing Detector Sensitivity..............................17
Better Understanding of Chemical Releases....................17
Federal Response Teams.......................................18
Policy Implications...............................................19
Chemical Availability.........................................19
Chemical Detector Research....................................21
Environmental Detection of Chemical Weapon Release...............21
First Responder Equipment and Diagnostic Laboratories..............22
Treatments and Prophylaxis.....................................23
Federal Emergency Response Teams..............................24
Related CRS Products.............................................24

High-Threat Chemical Agents:
Characteristics, Effects, and Policy
Since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, policymakers have been
attempting to decrease the vulnerability of the United States to the terrorist use of
weapons of mass destruction. This report describes the different types of high-threat
chemical agents. It also discusses their availability, treatment, and detection, and
possible policy approaches to reducing the threat posed by them.
Terrorist use of chemical agents is widely believed to be an event that has low
probability, but potentially high consequences. While there is still debate over
whether terrorist groups have an increased interest in chemical acquisition and use,
the domestic vulnerability of the United States to chemical attack remains high.
Policy approaches to reducing chemical vulnerability have generally treated chemical
agents as a group, rather than addressing specific agents. Additionally, military and
civilian chemical agent detection have developed with little coordination, so that
civilian toxic industrial chemical kits and military chemical weapons detectors
having varying sensitivities and detection capabilities. Treatments for chemical
exposure vary as well, depending on the type of chemical, and so must be addressed
on a chemical by chemical basis. Because comparatively few individuals have been
exposed to modern chemical weapons, practical experience in treatment of chemical
casualties is limited, especially among civilian health care providers. While national
efforts to reduce vulnerability to terrorist chemical agent use continue, it is not clear
whether specific agents that pose the greatest danger are being adequately addressed
as general vulnerabilities are being reduced.
What Are High-Threat Chemical Agents?
High-threat chemical agents are, for the purpose of this report, chemicals posing
exceptional lethality and danger to humans.1 Some may have been developed and
used for commercial purposes. Others may have been used or developed by
militaries as chemical weapons.

1 The determination of what chemical compounds pose the highest threat is open to
interpretation. The discussion in this report is a synthesis of military and public health
priorities and is not intended to represent a complete list of all potential threats.

Different chemical weapons cause different symptoms in and injuries to their
victims. Because of this range of potential symptoms, it can be difficult to know
what treatment will be most effective for a victim until the chemical or chemical type
has been identified. Also, chemical weapons may produce their effects by different
exposure routes, for example, by skin contact or by inhalation. As a consequence,
depending on what chemical is encountered, different protective equipment must be
employed; for example, a gas mask alone is not sufficient protection against
chemicals which can damage through skin contact.
Types of Chemical Agents
Military planners categorize such agents into four classes: nerve, blister,2
choking, and blood agents. This categorization groups chemicals by the effects they
cause to those exposed to them. While the nerve and blister agents are predominantly
only manufactured and used by militaries as weapons, both choking agents and blood
agents include chemicals widely used in industrial processes.
Nerve Agents
Chemical weapons affecting the nervous system are called nerve agents. Nerve
agents do not occur naturally. Rather, they are manmade compounds that require
manufacture and isolation for high toxicity and purity. Most nerve agents belong to
a group of chemicals called organophosphates. Organophosphates have a wide range
of toxicity, and some are commercially employed as insecticides, though these are
significantly less toxic than those developed as chemical weapons.3 Nerve agents are
mainly liquids.
Production. The first nerve agent developed for military use, called Tabun or
GA, was made in Germany in the 1930s.4 Following this discovery, a series of nerve
agents similar to Tabun were developed. This series, known as the G-series, include
the weapons Sarin (GB) and Soman (GD). In the late 1940s, another series of nerve
agents, the V-series, was invented in England. Both the British and the United States
chemical weapons programs investigated these compounds. The United States5
manufactured and stockpiled VX. A related compound, V-gas, was manufactured
and stockpiled by the Soviet Union. Military use of nerve agents has been rare.

2 Treatment of Chemical Agent Casualties and Conventional Military Chemical Injuries,
FM-8285, Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and Commandant, Marine
Corps, 1995.
3 Nancy B. Munro, Kathleen R. Ambrose, and Annetta P. Watson, “Toxicity of the
Organophosphate Chemical Warfare Agents GA, GB, and VX: Implications for Public
Protection,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 102, 1994, p. 38.
4 U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command, “Tabun - GA Nerve Agent
(Dimethylphosphoramido-cyanidate),” Chemical Agent Fact Sheet, 2001.
5 U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Technologies Underlying Weapons of
Mass Destruction, OTA-BP-ISC-115, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office,
December 1993).

Nerve agents were not used during World War I or World War II. During the 1980
— 1988 Iran-Iraq war, Iraq reportedly used nerve agents against Iranian troops and
later against members of its Kurdish population in northern Iraq.6
National chemical weapons programs have produced nerve agents for decades.
The technological barriers for a terrorist group to synthesize these agents might be
overcome by using commercially available equipment, though there would be
appreciable danger to the manufacturer due to the extreme toxicity of these
compounds. Nerve agent production requires the use of toxic chemicals during
synthesis and specialized equipment to contain the nerve agent produced. Of the
nerve agents, VX has been identified as the most difficult to manufacture.7
Effects. Nerve agents are extremely dangerous and can enter the body through
the lungs or by skin contact, though for the G-series nerve agents, the inhalation
toxicity is significantly greater than the dermal toxicity. Of the nerve agents, VX is
the most deadly and Tabun is the least deadly, though all are exceedingly toxic.
Nerve agents interfere with the nervous system, causing overstimulation of
muscles. Victims may suffer nausea and weakness and possibly convulsions and
spasms. At high concentration, loss of muscle control, nervous system irregularities,
and death may occur. The action of nerve agents can be irreversible if victims are not
quickly treated.
Treatment. Two drugs, atropine and pralidoxime chloride, are used as8
antidotes for nerve agents. Atropine prevents muscle spasm and allows the body
time to clear the nerve agent. Pralidoxime chloride limits the effects of nerve agent
exposure by reversing the agent’s action. Both of these drugs were issued to U.S.
troops during the Persian Gulf War in the form of an antidote kit called the Mark I.
Diazepam (Valium) may be used to reduce convulsions and seizures brought on by
exposure to nerve agents.9
The treatment window for nerve agent exposure is agent-dependent. Some
agents quickly and irreversibly react to enzymes within the body, while others require
a much longer time to permanently bind to these enzymes. The most effective
treatment occurs before such permanent binding has taken place. Soman, for
example, is permanently bound within minutes, while Tabun is not and can be treated
up to several hours after exposure. Prophylactic use of some compounds, such as

6 Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State, Presentation to the U.N. Security Council, February

5, 2003.

7 U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Technologies Underlying Weapons of
Mass Destruction, OTA-BP-ISC-115, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office,
December 1993).
8 NATO Handbook on the Medical Aspects of NBC Defensive Operations, AmedP-6(B),
Department of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, February, 1996.
9 Chemical Casualty Care Division, Field Management of Chemical Casualties Handbook,
Second Edition, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, July, 2000.

pyridostigmine bromide, may create a larger window for effective treatments for
some nerve agents.10
Blister Agents
Blister agents, also known as vesicants, are chemicals that cause painful
blistering of the skin. While such blistering is not generally lethal, the excruciating
pain caused by blister agents requires full body protection against these chemicals.
Militarily, blister agents produce casualties and reduce the combat effectiveness of
opposing troops by requiring them to wear bulky protective equipment.11 The most
common blister agent is mustard agents, which includes nitrogen- and sulfur-based
compounds. Mustard agents are oily liquids which range in color from very pale
yellow to dark brown, depending on the type and purity, and have a faint odor of
mustard, onion or garlic.12 These liquids evaporate quickly, and their vapors are also
Blister agents are not naturally occurring compounds. Mustard agents, for
example, were first developed in the late 1800s. During World War I, both sides in
the conflict used these weapons against their enemies, and the mustard-type blister
agent produced the greatest number of chemical casualties during World War I,
though fewer than 5% of these casualties died. Many countries have stockpiled
blister agents in their chemical weapon inventories. Mustard agent was also
reportedly used in the Iran-Iraq war.13 The United States is currently destroying its
stockpile of blister agents.
Production. Production of blister agents is considered less complicated than
that of nerve agents.14 Like nerve agents, it requires the use of some toxic chemicals
and specialized equipment to contain the agent produced. The most common blister
agents have many different methods for their production published in the open

10 Chemical Casualty Care Division, Medical Management of Chemical Casualties
Handbook, Third Edition, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical
Defense, August, 1999.
11 Treatment of Chemical Agent Casualties and Conventional Military Chemical Injuries,
FM-8285, Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and Commandant, Marine
Corps, 1995.
12 D. Hank Ellison, Handbook of Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents, (Boca Raton,
FL: CRC Press) 2000.
13 Chemical Casualty Care Division, Medical Management of Chemical Casualties
Handbook, Third Edition,United States Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical
Defense, August, 1999.
14 U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Technologies Underlying Weapons of
Mass Destruction, OTA-BP-ISC-115, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office,
December 1993).
15 For example, Jonathan B. Tucker, Director, Chemical & Biological Nonproliferation
Program, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies,

Effects. Blister agents can enter the body through the lungs or by contact with
the skin or eyes. Some can penetrate through normal clothing material, causing burns
in areas that were covered by cloth. While blister agents react quickly upon skin
contact, their symptoms may be delayed. In the case of mustard agent, damage
occurs within 1-2 minutes of exposure, but symptoms do not manifest for several
hours.16 As even low concentration of vaporized blister agent quickly causes
damage, it is unlikely that agents will be removed from the skin prior to injury.
The initial symptoms of blister agent exposure are a reddening of the skin,
resembling sunburn, combined with pain in the effected area. Swelling, blisters, and
lesions may then develop depending on the degree of exposure. Systemic symptoms
such as malaise, vomiting, and fever may also develop in extreme cases.17 Exposure18
to large amounts of liquid mustard agent may prove fatal.
The eyes are also very sensitive to blister agents. At high vapor exposures, great
pain, corneal damage, and scarring between the iris and lens may occur. The most
severe eye damage is often caused by liquid agent, either from contact with airborne
droplets or by self-contamination of the eyes from contaminated clothing or body19
Victims inhaling blister agents may suffer damage to their lungs. While a
single, low-level exposure will likely produce only temporary impairment, high
concentrations or repeated exposures may cause permanent damage. Inhalation
victims may have symptoms ranging from mild bronchitis to blistering of the lungs.20

15 (...continued)
testified that there are at least nine published methods to manufacture sulfur mustard agent.
Testimony before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on
International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services, November 7, 2001.
16 Draft Toxicological Profile for Mustard Gas, U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, Public Health Service, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry,
September, 2001.
17 Treatment of Chemical Agent Casualties and Conventional Military Chemical Injuries,
FM-8285, Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and Commandant, Marine
Corps, 1995.
18 Daniel J. Dire, “CBRNE - Vesicants, Mustard: HD, HN1-3, H,” eMedicine Knowledge
Base, January 13, 2003 found online at [http://www.emedicine.com/EMERG/topic901.htm].
19 During World War I, mild conjunctivitis accounted for 75% of eye injuries, with recovery
in one to two weeks. Moderate conjunctivitis with complications accounted for 15% of the
cases, with recovery in four to six weeks. Severe corneal damage accounted for 10% of the
cases. Those with permanent corneal damage accounted for less than 1% of cases. About

0.1% of these severe casualties would meet the criteria for legal blindness today. Daniel J.

Dire, “CBRNE - Vesicants, Mustard: HD, HN1-3, H,” eMedicine Knowledge Base, January

13, 2003, found online at [http://www.emedicine.com/EMERG/topic901.htm].

20 Treatment of Chemical Agent Casualties and Conventional Military Chemical Injuries,
FM-8285, Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and Commandant, Marine
Corps, 1995.

Treatment. Damage from blister agent exposure, lesions and other skin
irritations, is symptomatically treated. Hospitalization may be required for
respiratory tract injuries. Victims who suffer severe lung damage may require
mechanical ventilation. An additional complication after exposure to large amounts
of mustard agent is a general weakening of the whole immune system. Because of
these systemic effects, special precautions must be taken against opportunistic21
infections in the case of exposure to high concentration of mustard agent.
Choking Agents
Chemicals that act on the lungs, causing difficulty in breathing and, potentially,
permanent lung damage are known as choking agents. Examples of choking agents
include chlorine, ammonia, and phosgene. Choking agents have historically been
used during wartime, and are sometimes encountered during industrial accidents.22
Choking agents are generally gases that have marked odors and may color the
surrounding air.
Production. Many choking agents are dual-use chemicals with both a civilian
and a military purpose. Chlorine and ammonia are both used in large quantities for
commercial applications, while phosgene is used within the chemical industry.
Methods for producing choking agents are well known, but may be technically
challenging. Choking agents require specialized equipment to produce, compress,
and contain them. Choking agents were also manufactured for wartime use, and were
extensively used during World War I. The first major, successful, chemical attack
of the war used chlorine gas at Ypres in 1915.23 Chlorine gas was later supplemented24
by phosgene use, which caused greater casualties.
Effects. Choking agents injure their victims through inhalation, with a
comparatively mild effect on the skin. Exposure to low chemical concentrations
causes chest discomfort or shortness of breath, irritation of nose and throat, and
tearing eyes. High agent concentrations may quickly cause swelling of the lungs,
respiratory failure, and possibly death. Symptoms of lung damage can occur up to

48 hours after inhalation of moderate concentrations, and often do not manifest25

themselves until the lungs are aggravated by physical effort.
21 Chemical Casualty Care Division, Field Management of Chemical Casualties Handbook,
Second Edition, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, July, 2000.
22 For examples of small toxic gas leaks, see Charles Shumaker and Ken Ward Jr, “Chlorine
Leak Closes South Charleston,” The Charleston Gazette, January 29, 2002 and “Ammonia
Leak Forces Evacuation,” The Clarion-Ledger, February 24, 2003.
23 A. Boserup, The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare — Volume I — The Rise
of CB Weapons, (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiskell), 1973.
24 Scott R. Burnell, “Be Prepared: Act Fast in a Chem Attack,” The Washington Times,
February 12, 2003.
25 Chemical Casualty Care Division, Medical Management of Chemical Casualties
Handbook, Third Edition, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical
Defense, August, 1999.

Treatment. Victims of choking agents are generally treated symptomatically.
Because lung damage may be exacerbated by exercise, victims are kept at rest until
the danger of fluid in the lungs is past. Symptoms such as tightness of the chest and
coughing are treated with immediate rest and comfort. Shallow breathing and26
insufficient oxygen may require supplemental oxygen.
Swelling and accumulation of fluids in the lungs are likely after exposure to a
high dose of choking agent. Administration of corticosteroids has been
recommended in cases of fluid accumulation, but their beneficial effects have not
been proven.27 Rest, warmth, sedation, and oxygen are still the primary treatments,
even in the case of marked edema.
Blood Agents
Blood agents are chemicals that interfere with oxygen utilization at the cellular
level. Hydrogen cyanide and cyanide salts are agents in this group. Hydrogen
cyanide is a very volatile gas, smelling of almonds, while cyanide salts are odorless
Hydrogen cyanide was considered for use as a chemical warfare agent, but was
rarely used in military situations because its effectiveness was limited by its quick
dispersion. The French manufactured hydrogen cyanide as a military agent during
World War I.28 Hydrogen cyanide was used in other situations though; the principle
agent used to kill individuals in German World War II concentration camps, Zyklon
B, used hydrogen cyanide as its active agent.29 Hydrogen cyanide use has been
attributed to both sides during the Iran-Iraq war.30
Production. Hydrogen cyanide and cyanide salts are now used as industrial
chemicals, having application in the chemical, electroplating, and mining industries.
As with choking agents, methods for producing blood agents are relatively well-
known. However, the gaseous nature of hydrogen cyanide complicates production
and storage.

26 Chemical Casualty Care Division, Field Management of Chemical Casualties Handbook,
Second Edition, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, July, 2000.
27 NATO Handbook on the Medical Aspects of NBC Defensive Operations, AmedP-6(B),
Department of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, February, 1996.
28 Chemical Casualty Care Division, Medical Management of Chemical Casualties
Handbook, Third Edition, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical
Defense, August, 1999.
29 J. H. Barrington, Ed., The Zyklon B Trial: Trial of Bruno Tesch and Two Others, (London)


30 Stephanie Nolen, “Kurds Dread Another Yellow Sky of Death,” The Globe and Mail,
February 15, 2003

Effects. Blood agents act through inhalation or ingestion and impair cellular
oxygen use.31 The central nervous system is especially susceptible to this effect, and
blood agents usually cause death through oxygen starvation of brain cells. The
symptoms of blood agent exposure depend upon the agent concentration and the
duration of exposure. In mild cases, there may be headache, dizziness, and nausea
for several hours, followed by complete spontaneous recovery. Higher concentration
or longer exposure may additionally cause convulsions and coma. Very high
concentrations may lead to powerful gasping for breath, violent convulsions, and32
cardiac failure within a few minutes.
Treatment. The effects of blood agents are reversed through treatment with
specific antidotes: either amyl or sodium nitrite combined with sodium thiosulfate.
The combination of these two chemicals removes cyanide, the active compound in
blood agents, from the body. When symptoms such as convulsion or depressed
breathing are present, ventilation with oxygen and administration of anticonvulsants
are used. Cyanide is metabolized more readily than most chemical weapons; with33
prompt treatment, victims may recover from otherwise-fatal doses.
Protection Against Chemical Agents
Protection against chemical agents is predominantly achieved through physical,
rather than medicinal, means. Physical protections limit exposure by protecting the
eyes, lungs, and/or skin from chemical contact.
Physical protection against chemical agents includes gas masks and special
protective clothing. Gas mask filters equipped with chemical filters are effective
against inhaled chemical agents, but may not provide sufficient protection against
chemical agents active on skin contact, such as VX or mustard agents, or high
concentrations of other nerve agents.
Gas mask filters are normally constructed from layers of activated charcoal and
fine porous material to remove particles and chemicals from the airstream. The
activated charcoal binds chemicals, preventing them from being inhaled. Each gas

31 Draft Toxicological Profile for Cyanide, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Public Health Service, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, September,


32 Treatment of Chemical Agent Casualties and Conventional Military Chemical Injuries,
FM-8285, Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and Commandant, Marine
Corps, 1995.
33 Chemical Casualty Care Division, Medical Management of Chemical Casualties
Handbook, Third Edition, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical
Defense, August, 1999.

mask filter has a finite capacity, proportional to the amount of unbound activated
charcoal remaining, and so has a limited lifetime once put into operation.34
For those chemical weapons that cause effect upon skin contact, a protective
garment is required. These garments range in complexity and protective ability.
Hazardous materials suits are typically suits made of layered rubber with activated
charcoal. In comparison, military battle dress overgarments designed to protect
against chemical weapons in the battlefield are generally cloth, sometimes treated to
resist absorbing liquids, containing a layer of charcoal-impregnated foam.35 The
rubber in protective equipment is impermeable to most chemical agents, while the
activated charcoal acts in a manner similar to a gas mask filter. The combination of
mask and suit provides full protection against most chemical exposures.
There are few examples of medical prophylaxis against chemical weapons.
Unlike some biological pathogens, there are no vaccines to provide immunity from
the effects of these weapons. However, some protection against the nerve agent
Soman can be achieved by the pre-exposure use of pyridostigmine bromide.
Pyridostigmine bromide acts to supplement post-exposure administration of the nerve
agent antidotes atropine and pralidoxime chloride. Use of pyridostigmine bromide
prevents permanent binding of nerve agents within the nervous system.
Pyridostigmine bromide use is recommended only when there is a high imminent
threat of chemical weapon use, as it has noticeable side effects.36
As an added protection against chemical weapons which cause their effects
through skin contact, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense
has developed a chemical resistant topical skin cream. The Skin Exposure Reduction
Paste Against Chemical Warfare Agents, also known as SERPACWA, is designed
to complement chemical protective equipment provided to soldiers in the field.37
Decontamination, where chemicals are removed from the victims, usually
through washing the eyes and skin with water and (against some chemical agents) a

34 “Chemical Defense Equipment” by Michael R. O’Hern, Thomas R. Dashiell, and Mary
Frances Tracy, Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Chapter 16, pp.


35 Information Paper: Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) and Chemical
Protection, Department of Defense, October 30, 1997.
36 The Food and Drug Administration has approved this compound for military treatment of
Soman exposure. Pyridostigmine bromide has limited treatment effectiveness against other
nerve agents. FDA News, “FDA Approves Pyridostigmine Bromide as Pretreatment Against
Nerve Gas,” US Department of Health and Human Services, February 5, 2003.
37 For more information regarding SERPACWA, see Cindy Kronman, “Army Grants
Commercial License for Topical Skin Protectant Technology,” Chemical and Biological
Defense Information Analysts Center Newsletter, Spring, 2003.

dilute bleach solution, is an essential protection against secondary chemical
exposure.38 In addition to stopping the victim’s exposure to the chemical agent, this
procedure prevents those treating the victim from becoming victims themselves, and
avoids contamination of treatment facilities.39 Decontamination is especially
important in those cases where victims have encountered liquid chemical agents, and
may have significant amounts of chemical agent trapped in their garments. In events
with gaseous agents, decontamination may be less critical. After decontamination
is completed, treatment of the victims occurs, in some cases with agent-specific
antidotes while in others, symptomatic treatment is performed.
Detection of Chemical Agents
Chemical weapons detection has been predominantly an area of concern for
military planners, although the manufacture of some of these agents for commercial
use requires detection capabilities at manufacturing plants and by hazardous-
materials first responders. While some military units have equipment designated for
chemical weapon detection, civilian first responders use a variety of commercial
equipment to detect and identify a wide range of chemicals.
Because of the wide spectrum of chemical agents, the development of a
portable, integrated instrument which quickly detects all chemical agents remains an
area of research and development. The Department of Defense currently employs a
series of technologies to detect and identify chemical agents, including personal
sensors, automated atmospheric sampling, and field-adapted laboratory methods for
battlefield use.
Detection of chemical agents can serve many purposes. One is to provide
warning of a chemical attack, allowing additional time to react to a terror event.
Another is to identify the chemical agent used in an attack. This might provide for
better treatment and more effective response. Finally, determining when an area is
clear of chemical agents after a terror attack requires sensitive post-event detection.
There are techniques for detecting chemical agents that are based on sampling
the local environment. Detection paper, tickets, and tubes are examples of such
techniques. Detection paper is absorbent paper impregnated with special dyes.
When a drop of chemical agent is absorbed by the paper, it dissolves one of the
pigments, causing the paper to change color. Detection tickets are used in a manner
similar to detection paper. The ticket is waved in the air or used with a hand pump
to determine if chemical agents are present. Detection tubes use a similar

38 Liudvikas Jagminas and Dennis P. Erdman, “CBRNE-Chemical Decontamination,”
eMedicine Knowledge Base, October 15, 2001.
39 Following the 1995 Sarin attack in the Tokyo subway, it was determined that 10% of the
emergency medical technicians who transported victims to the hospital and 23% of the
hospital staff workers who treated those victims developed symptoms of Sarin exposure.
Jonathan B. Tucker, “Chemical Terrorism: Assessing Threats and Responses,” in High-
Impact Terrorism: Proceedings of a Russian American Workshop, (Washington, DC:
National Academy Press) 2002.

technology, but rely on a hand pump to draw air samples through the tube, which
discolors in the presence of an agent. A disadvantage to these techniques is that other
substances can also dissolve these pigments, causing false positives.40 The pigments
involved can be specific to a type of agent, so an array of papers, tickets, or tubes
may be required to identify the exact agent encountered.
Handheld detectors, such as the Chemical Agent Monitor (CAM), are able to
detect some chemical agents, namely mustard agents and nerve agents, at levels that
are below the lethal threshold, but above the acceptable daily exposure limit for
civilians.41 Automatic sampling devices, such as the Automatic Chemical Agent
Detector/Alarm (ACADA), are also employed to provide automated, constant
atmospheric sampling.42 These devices sometimes use a technique called ion
mobility spectroscopy to detect the presence of chemical agents.
Much of the above equipment is commercially available, and could be used by
hazardous material response teams to assess potential terrorist activity. Typically,
hazardous material response teams are equipped with detection paper, tickets, or
tubes, but these teams have differing requirements regarding equipment
standardization.43 The President has requested FY2004 funding for the Department
of Homeland Security for research on standards for first responder detection
equipment.44 To aid first responders in choosing the best or most appropriate system
for their use, the National Institute of Justice has provided guidelines to assess
various types of detectors.45 Supplementing first responders is the Metropolitan
Medical Response System, a federal program to enhance local capabilities in the
event of a terrorist incident.46 Ninety-seven metropolitan areas are involved in this
system and maintain additional chemical detection, treatment, and decontamination

40 Griffin Davis and Gabor Kelen, “CBRNE - Chemical Detection Equipment,” eMedicine
Knowledge Base, October 15, 2001, found online at
[ ht t p: / / www.emedi c i ne.com/ emer g/ t opi c924.ht m] .
41 Institute of Medicine, Chemical and Biological Terrorism: Research and Development
to Improve Civilian Medical Response, (Washington, DC: National Academy Press) 1999.
42 Daniel M. Nowak, Chemical Detection on Mobile and Armored Vehicles, US Army
Ground Vehicle Survivability Symposium , 1999.
43 For more on this topic see CRS Report RL31680 Homeland Security: Standards for State
and Local Preparedness by Ben Canada.
44 Department of Homeland Security, Budget in Brief (FY2004), found online at
[http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic /interweb/assetlibrary/FY_2004_BUDGET _ IN_BRIEF.pdf]
45 National Institute of Justice, Guide for the Selection of Chemical Agent and Toxic
Industrial Material Detection Equipment for Emergency First Responders, US Department
of Justice, June, 2000.
46 This program was moved to the Department of Homeland Security. For more information
regarding the Metropolitan Medical Response System, see online at
[ h t t p : / / www.mmr s.hhs.gov] .
47 The Department of Health and Human Services has set as a goal the inclusion of 200

Public Health Monitoring
Another way of detecting a chemical terrorism event would be through the
public health system. The sudden arrival of chemical casualties in local hospitals
will quickly alert health care professionals. Since September 11, 2001 increases in
public health networking has improved information sharing between localities.48
This may increase the likelihood of identifying, for example, a covert release of
blister agent through identification of symptoms. Public health monitoring also may
aid in forensic investigations following a covert event, especially if symptoms are
delayed. Such public health monitoring may also provide opportunities to identify
terrorists who may have self-inflicted chemical weapon injuries. Additionally, the
Laboratory Response Network has been established, which links together diagnostic
laboratories for the identification of chemical agents, as well as disease outbreaks.49
Chemical Agents as Weapons of Terror Rather Than
as Weapons of Mass Destruction
Many experts believe that it would be difficult for terrorist groups to use
chemical agents as weapons of mass destruction. Even VX, the most lethal of nerve
agents, would require tons, spread uniformly and efficiently, to kill 50% of the people250
in a 100 km area. On the other hand, chemical agents might be effectively used as
weapons of terror in situations where limited or enclosed space might decrease the
required amounts of chemical. That is, the use of the weapon itself, even if casualties
are few, could cause fear that would magnify the attack’s effect beyond what would
be expected based solely on the number of casualties.
There have been few examples of successful chemical terror attacks. In 1995,
Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese apocalyptic cult, used Sarin on the Tokyo subway. The
attack killed 12 people and sent more than 5,000 to the hospital with some degree of
injury.51 This same cult reportedly carried out an attack in Matsumoto as well, where

47 (...continued)
metropolitan areas in the MMRS by FY 2006. US Department of Health and Human
Services Fact Sheet, Medical Response in Emergencies: HHS Role, January 25, 2001.
48 For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have established the
National Electronic Disease Surveillance System to more quickly identify and respond to
public health threats. For more information on the National Electronic Disease Surveillance
System, see [http://www.cdc.gov/nedss/].
49 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Summary on the Laboratory Response
Network, April 17, 2002.
50 U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Technologies Underlying Weapons of
Mass Destruction, OTA-BP-ISC-115, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office,
December 1993).
51 For an overview of the Aum Shinrikyo use of sarin in the Tokyo subway system, see
David E. Kaplan, “Aum Shinrikyo (1995)” in Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of
Chemical and Biological Weapons, Jonathan B. Tucker, Ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press)

7 people were killed and over 200 injured.52 Both of these attacks used G-series
nerve agents, which are more toxic through inhalation than by contact. V-series
agents employed in a similar manner might have caused greater fatalities.
In comparison, blister agents would likely be less lethal, but more injurious, if
used in a similar manner. Blister agents are dermally active, so inhalation of the
agent would not be necessary to cause injury. Additionally, since mustard agent
vapor penetrates most fabrics, victims near the point of release might suffer
grievously. Blister agents, while not likely to cause mass destruction, might cause
mass terror and injury.
Choking agents are no longer considered to be useful military weapons, as
chemical suits and masks provide high protection. As a weapon of mass destruction
used against civilians, the comparatively low lethality of choking agents complicates
their use as a weapon of mass destruction, since very large volumes would be
needed.53 On the other hand, the industrial availability of some choking agents
provides opportunities for acquisition and subsequent use of potentially very large
volumes of such agents. For example, the United States produces approximately 1
billion pounds of chlorine a year for use in water treatment facilities. The potential
vulnerability of chlorine-filled rail tank cars, by which chlorine is primarily
transported, has been noted.54 Terrorist attack on industrial stores at chemical or
water treatment facilities or during shipment has been raised as another potential
source of concern.55
Blood agents may be difficult to employ as weapons of mass destruction for
many of the same reasons as choking agents. The quick dispersal of blood agents,
combined with the large amounts necessary to cause mass casualties, make such
agents difficult to use on a mass scale. Even those blood agents which are
industrially manufactured are often used on-site without being shipped. However,
terrorist groups seem to be increasingly interested in these agents, perhaps because
of criminal use of them.56

51 (...continued)


52 A fact sheet regarding the Matsumoto incident can be found at the Chemical and
Biological Arms Control Institute, online at [http://www.cbaci.org/matsumot.htm].
53 The first use of chlorine, at Ypres in 1915, was a release of 168 tons of chlorine gas. It
is estimated to have killed 5,000 unprotected Allied troops.
54 For example, the deliberate explosion on a rail-car of liquified chlorine is used as an
example in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Regional Emergency
Coordination Plan, found online at
[ h t t p : / / www.mwcog.or g/ homel and_pl an/ RESF_downl oad.ht m] .
55 For a representative example, see Fred Reed, “Modern Realities Do Favor Terrorists,” The
Washington Times, February 13, 2003.
56 Cyanide salts have been used to poison over-the-counter medications. A number of
people, seven in 1982, one in 1987, and two in 1993, have died from cyanide poisoning
following the use of over-the-counter medications which had been tampered with. See

Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, stated he
had intended to include sodium cyanide in that bomb, in order to create a cloud of
cyanide gas.57 While a small amount of cyanide was found in the supplies of the
bombers, there was no evidence that this had been done. In 1995, following the Sarin
attack, members of Aum Shinrikyo attempted an attack in Tokyo by setting fire to a
plastic bag of sodium cyanide positioned next to a bag of an acid. A similar
combination of chemicals was discovered the following month in another station.
Both devices were successfully disarmed.58 In 2002, Italian police arrested four
Moroccan men possessing potassium ferrocyanide. It was reported that the men
arrested planned to poison the water supply using the potassium ferrocyanide. It is
questionable how effective this would have been, considering the volume of the
water supply and the amount of potassium ferrocyanide found in their possession.59
A group calling itself September 11 threatened the use of cyanide to disrupt the
America’s Cup boat race in New Zealand.60
It is believed that the al Qaeda terrorist group has produced and developed plans
for the employment of chemical weapons, including hydrogen cyanide. Osama bin
Laden has stated that al Qaeda has a chemical capability.61 Ahmed Ressam,
convicted in a plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport, testified he had received training
in the use of hydrogen cyanide in Afghanistan at an al Qaeda training camp.62 The
training described included the production of hydrogen cyanide using cyanide salts
and acids, demonstrations of the effectiveness of the agent by exposing dogs to it,
and introducing the agent into building ventilation systems by placing a source near
the air intakes.63 CNN also located and retrieved videotapes from Afghanistan which
portray the results of testing of unknown chemical agents on dogs. It has been

56 (...continued)
“Sudafed Tamperer Gets Life With No Parole,” United Press International, June 8, 1993.
57 For an overview of the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, see John V. Parachini, “The
World Trade Center Bombers (1993),” in Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of
Chemical and Biological Weapons, Jonathan B. Tucker, Ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press)


58 “Key Cultist Sentenced to Die for Role in Two Sarin Attacks: Court Rejects Defendant’s
Claim He Feared Asahara,” The Japan Times, June 30, 2000.
59 An overview of this event is provided in Eric Croddy, Matthew Osborne, and Kimberly
McCloud, “Chemical Terrorist Plot in Rome?” Research Story of the Week, Center for
Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, March 11, 2002.
60 “NZ Newspaper Receives Second Cyanide Threat Letter,” Reuters, March 4, 2003.
61 “Bin Laden Claims to Have Nuclear Weapons in Interview with Pakistani Newspaper,”
Associated Press, November 10, 2001.
62 Sharon Theimer, “Chemical Weapons Training Revealed,” Associated Press, September

25, 2001.

63 Stephen Grey, Dipesh Gadher and Joe Lauria, “What Bin Laden Taught Ressam: from
Gruesome Experiments with Poison Gas to the Art of Bomb-Making,” The Ottawa Citizen,
October 7, 2001.

suggested that the chemical agent used in those videotapes was a blood agent, most
likely hydrogen cyanide.64
Current Policy
Export Control
Treaties and multinational agreements are used to control international
proliferation of chemical weapons. These multinational programs inhibit
proliferation by increasing the technical barriers to weapon production and the
difficulties of obtaining required precursor chemicals. Examples of such multilateral
controls include the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Chemical Weapons Convention,65
and the Australia Group.66 The Chemical Weapons Convention provides lists of
chemicals which are to be controlled through national export regulation. These
chemicals include chemical weapons themselves and select precursor chemicals
which might be used to develop chemical weapons. In conjunction with these lists
for export controls are criteria and a mechanism for inspection visits of facilities
suspected of being used to develop chemical weapons.67 U.S. export controls aimed
at creating proliferation barriers include Export Administration Regulations and
International Traffic in Arms Regulations.68
Industry Self-regulation
Other mechanisms, including voluntary governmental programs, increased
contacts between suppliers and purchasers, and industrial best practices, are currently
used to monitor sale of dual-use chemicals. The Department of Treasury developed
a program called “Operation Shield America,” where Customs agents visit U.S. firms
manufacturing or distributing technologies and materials which may interest terrorist
groups.69 These agents provide firms with information about U.S. export controls

64 Nic Robertson, “Disturbing Scenes of Death Show Capability with Chemical Gas,” CNN,
August 19, 2002.
65 The Chemical Weapons Convention is the short title of Convention on the Prohibition of
the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their
66 Information on the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Australia Group and the Chemical
Weapons Convention is found online at [http://www.wassenaar.org/],
[http://www.opcw.org/], and [http://www.australiagroup.net]. The United States agreed to
the Wassenaar Arrangement in 1996, ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997,
and is a charter member of the Australia Group.
67 For more information on the Chemical Weapons Convention, see CRS Issue Brief
IB94029 Chemical Weapons Convention: Issues for Congress by Steven R. Bowman.
68 Export Administration Regulations can be found at 15 CFR Parts 730-774. International
Traffic in Arms Regulations can be found at 22 CFR Parts 120-130.
69 This program, renamed Project Shield America, was transferred to the Department of

and request that vendors notify the Customs Service if they are approached by
customers looking to acquire and export their products illegally.70 Some industries,
such as parts of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, are developing best
practices programs to limit potential misuse of dual-use equipment, equipment with
both a civilian and military use. These practices include higher physical security of
laboratory and production facilities.71
Members of some industries have also developed security plans and self-
regulatory mechanisms. For example, the American Chemistry Council, a chemical
industrial group, requires its members to adhere to its Responsible Care Security
Code. This code has multiple phases including: prioritizing facilities; assessing the
physical security procedures at each facility; developing and implementing any
identified flaws or risks; and conducting external and internal audits of facility
security programs.72 The General Accounting Office has stated that the extent of
security preparedness at chemical facilities is unknown and that such voluntary
efforts only reach a fraction of the total number of chemical facilities.73
Research and Development
Federal agencies currently involved in research and development related to
chemical weapons countermeasures include the Department of Health and Human
Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the
Department of Defense. Research being performed in areas related to chemical
weapons includes: biomedical research; increasing detector sensitivity; and obtaining
better scientific understanding of the behavior of chemical releases.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate
will fund research and development activities against chemical terrorism. The
FY2004 budget request contains $65 million for Chemical/High Explosives
Countermeasures, which includes developing better technologies for chemical
detection in air and water, chemical weapons forensics, and civilian chemical defense

69 (...continued)
Homeland Security and is now operated by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection
within the Border and Transportation Directorate.
70 For more information on Project Shield America, see
[http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/enfor cement/ice/investigative_priorities/ecee/].
71 Members of the American Chemistry Council have adopted a Responsible Care Security
Code to limit the effects of terrorist attacks or infiltration at their facilities. See Protecting
a Nation: Homeland Defense and the Business of Chemistry, American Chemistry Council,
2002. Other industry groups have developed similar plans. See Biosafety and Biosecurity
— Industry Best Practices to Prevent Misuse of Biohazardous Material, Interpharma, May,


72 For more information on chemical plant security, see CRS Report RL31530 Chemical
Plant Security by Linda-Jo Schierow.
73 U.S. General Accounting Office, Security of Chemical Facilities, GAO-03-439, March,


systems; and $25 million for a Standards Program, part of which will develop test
and evaluation criteria for first responder detection equipment.74
Biomedical Research. The United States government continues defensive
research into chemical weapons. This research includes enhancing and improving
medical treatments for victims of chemical weapon exposure and increasing
understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of chemical weapon action. Some of
this research is carried out by the Department of Defense, coordinated by the Defense75
Threat Reduction Agency. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical
Defense and U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command perform research
and development activities, while other research aspects are performed through
outside contracts.76
Increasing Detector Sensitivity. There are a range of programs engaged
in developing new or improved detectors for chemical weapons. Improvements are
sought in sensitivity, speed, applicability, and other factors. These programs are
located in the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the
Environmental Protection Agency.
The Department of Defense is developing the next generation of chemical agent
detectors. It has funded the development and testing of the Joint Chemical Agent
Detector, a sensitive, multi-agent detection system intended for individual use or
networked as perimeter detection.77 Other research, performed at Department of
Energy laboratories, has resulted in the µChemLab system, a portable, hand-held
device incorporating “lab on a chip” analysis systems.78 These devices are in the
development and production stages.
Better Understanding of Chemical Releases. Chemical releases may
be modeled using powerful computer programs. This ability may aid in determining
the potential extent of contamination, areas of likely effect, and the need for
evacuation. Additionally, the science of particle/droplet formation, diffusion and
dispersal, and technologies for cloud-monitoring and identification are areas where
research continues to be funded.79

74 Department of Homeland Security, Budget in Brief (FY2004), found online at
[http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interweb/a ssetlibrary/FY_2004_BUDGET _ IN_BRIEF.pdf].
75 For more information on the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chem-Bio Defense, see
[http://www.dtra.mil/cb/cb_index.html ].
76 For more information on the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense,
see [http://chemdef.apgea.army.mil/]. For more information on the U.S. Army Soldier and
Biological Chemical Command, see [http://www.sbccom.army.mil/].
77 BAE Systems is developing the Joint Chemical Agent Detector. For more information on
the Joint Chemical Agent Detector, see [http://www.jcad.baesystems.com/jcad_1.htm].
78 The µChemLab system is under development at Sandia National Laboratories. For more
information on the µChemLab system, see
[ h t t p : / / www.ca.sandi a.go v/ mi cr ochem/ McCmLab.pdf ] .
79 For an example of such research, see “Containing the Effects of Chemical and Biological

Federal Response Teams
There are numerous federal response teams which could be deployed in the
event of chemical terrorism. In general, these teams would support local responders
in detection, decontamination, or treatment roles. A selection of these teams will be
described below.
One response team is the DOD’s Chemical/Biological Incident Response Force
(CBIRF).80 CBIRF can be deployed to aid in consequence management after a
chemical or biological terror attack. It possesses both decontamination and treatment
facilities and can be deployed domestically or internationally at short notice. This
rapid response force was deployed at the Atlanta Olympics and is equipped with state
of the art equipment for chemical and biological threats. It is located at Indian Head,
Maryland, and could be deployed in the case of chemical terrorism.81
The Federal Bureau of Investigation maintains a Hazardous Materials Response
Unit which, in response to crimes involving chemical weapons, would be available
to analyze and identify chemicals and threats present. This unit provided site-safety
assessments during the September 11, 2001 attacks.82
The U.S. Army Technical Escort Unit conducts chemical detection,
decontamination, and remediation of chemical devices or hazards worldwide. While
typically deployed to handle and secure discovered chemical munitions, they also
have been used to provide support to other large national events.83
As part of the National Disaster Medical System, Disaster Mortuary Operational
Response Teams, Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, and four National Medical
Response Teams are available to be deployed to the scene of a national emergency.
This program was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security and is now
located within the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate.84

79 (...continued)
Agents in Buildings,” EETD Newsletter, Spring, 2002. For more information on modeling
airborne toxic releases, see the Urban Security Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory,
found online at [http://www.lanl.gov/orgs/d/d4/aquality/urban.html].
80 More information on the Chemical/Biological Incident Response Force can be found
online at [http://www.lejeune.usmc.mil/4thmeb/cbirf.htm].
81 Steve Vogel, “Specialized Marine Unit Readies To Respond to the Unthinkable: Force
Trains for Chemical, Biological or Radiological Attacks,” The Washington Post, February

17, 2003.

82 FBI Laboratory 2001 Report, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2001.
83 More information can be found online at [http://teu.sbccom.army.mil/].
84 For more information see CRS Report RL31791, Emergency Management Funding for
the Department of Homeland Security: Information and Issues for FY2004 by Keith Bea,
Coordinator, Rob Buschmann, Ben Canada, Wayne Morrissey, C. Stephen Redhead, and
Shawn Reese.

The National Guard supports several Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil
Support Teams. They were established to support local resources in determining the
nature and extent of an attack or incident. These teams are able to deploy within four
hours of a given alert.
Policy Implications
There are several areas where policymakers may wish to further address the
danger posed by terrorist acquisition and use of high-threat chemical agents: the
availability of such chemical agents; the availability of chemical detectors, their
sensitivity, and their use; the ability of first responders and diagnostic laboratories to
detect, respond to, and resolve a chemical attack; the development of new treatments
and prophylaxis; and determining whether an appropriate amount of funds and
federal attention is being given to this topic.
Chemical Availability
Chemical agent availability varies greatly. Some chemicals, notably those with
commercial or industrial use, are available for over-the-counter purchase from
chemical suppliers. Because these chemicals have a legitimate civilian use, there is
little oversight of such sales. Consequently, these chemicals may be available for
purchase or theft in large quantities.85
Regulatory mechanisms designed to increase the barriers to illicit acquisition of
dual-use chemical agents, such as mandatory identity or use verification for domestic
purchases, might reduce the relative threat. Such a proposal might add a significant
burden to chemical manufacturers and distributers, as well as end-users of these
chemicals, since verification paperwork and procedures could increase manufacturing
and overhead costs. Additionally, increasing acquisition barriers via purchase of
such agents would not address the threat posed by theft of these agents.
Dual-use chemical agents are transported, and occasionally stored, in large
quantities, and it is possible that they might be stolen, or even intentionally damaged
while in transit, as part of a terror attack. Some have advocated that the transport and
storage of these chemicals be regulated with greater strictness, with their transport
limited to less populated areas and the amounts transported or stored limited,86 and
that such facilities be made more secure.87 Others have pointed to efforts taken by

85 Theft of some high-threat agents has been reported. For example, ten tons of sodium
cyanide were stolen by hijacking a cargo truck in Mexico. Laurence Iliff, “Stolen Truck
with Cyanide Cargo Found in Mexico,” The Dallas Morning News, May 17, 2002. There
have also been reports of anhydrous ammonia stolen from user facilities. “1,500 Evacuated
After Theft Causes Ammonia Leak in Washington State,” Associated Press, May 13, 2002.
86 See, for example, Steve Dunham, “Securing Rail Freight,” Journal of Homeland Security,
February, 2003.
87 For example, the city of Baltimore is currently developing an ordinance designed to lower

water officials to reduce on-site stockpiles of chemicals and to use alternate
purification methods as a model for reducing vulnerability.88
Such proposals raise the question of what an acceptable threshold for stored or
transported chemical agents might be. Railcars may contain up to ninety tons of
chemical, while other storage facilities may contain comparable amounts. Anhydrous
ammonia used for refrigerant purposes is sometimes stored in fifty to one hundred
ton amounts. Proposals involving increasing security or limiting the size of allowed
transfer or storage of chemicals might have significant economic costs. Additional
security at manufacturing and transport facilities may increase the cost of these
chemicals, while requiring end-user security improvement may prove impractical.
Assessing the success of such plans may also be complicated. Legislation has been
introduced in the 108th Congress to address some of these issues.89
The availability of actual chemical weapons is severely limited. Facilities where
they are kept have high security, and access to chemical weapons is strictly
controlled.90 Chemical weapons in the United States are controlled in military
facilities.91 On the other hand, some chemical weapon precursors, such as
thiodiglycol, can be domestically purchased from chemical companies in limited
quantities. Some companies have instituted a greater degree of identity and use
verification for these purchases. There are many potential manufacturing methods
for chemical weapons, and so it is possible to make them from simpler, unregulated
compounds. However, this process would increase the manufacturing complexity
and time required for production. Legislation has been introduced in the 108th
Congress to address some of these issues.92

87 (...continued)
the risk of terrorism at industrial plants. Marina Sarris, “Baltimore Security Ordinance
Being Put Into Place,” Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News, February 3, 2003.
88 Carol D. Leonnig and Spencer S. Hsu, “Fearing Attack, Blue Plains Ceases Toxic
Chemical Use,” The Washington Post, November 10, 2001.
89 For information about 108th Congress legislation regarding chemical plant security, see
CRS Report RL31530, Chemical Plant Security, by Linda-Jo Schierow..
90 An intruder spotted at the Deseret Chemical Depot caused a quick mobilization of security
forces. “Intruder Spotted at Army Chemical Depot,” CNN, September 5, 2002.
91 Chemical demilitarization facilities dispose of chemical weapons on their sites. Deseret
Chemical Depot is currently engaged in incineration of chemical weapons, and seven other
facilities are to be constructed. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chemical Demilitarization
Fact Sheet, September, 2001.
92 Representative Engel introduced H.R. 726, the Chemical Attack Prevention Act, on
February 26, 2003. It would require licenses for the domestic sale, purchase, and
distribution of certain chemicals that are precursors to chemical weapons. It has been
referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade
and Consumer Protection, where no further action has been taken as of this writing.

Chemical Detector Research
Policymakers may wish to direct or increase research efforts in developing
reliable, sensitive chemical agent detectors. Detection of chemical agents at low
levels is a challenging task which has not yet been uniformly achieved. The current
generation of Chemical Agent Monitors is not capable of detecting chemical weapons
at the acceptable exposure threshold limit.93 This greatly complicates the efforts of
hazardous materials first responders in assessing safety.
One of the trade-offs in developing sensitive chemical detectors is the risk of
detecting a chemical similar to a chemical agent and incorrectly registering it as an
agent. In a civilian system, such false positives may lead to great disruption and
uncertainty.94 In contrast, false negatives, where the detector signals the absence of
a chemical agent when one is actually present, might endanger civilians.
Environmental Detection of Chemical Weapon Release
How chemical weapon detectors are to be employed in civilian society is open
to question. Currently detectors are used on a case-by-case basis, generally in
response to an emergency. Chemical weapon detectors are used to determine the
extent of a hazardous release and the degree of contamination of the air and
surrounding materials. (The atmosphere is not generally monitored for chemical
weapons.) This prevailing approach is being assessed to determine if it is the most
appropriate use of such equipment.
At least one real-time chemical detection system has been installed in public
transit in Washington, DC, to detect potential chemical attacks in the Washington
Metropolitan Transit System. Information about the extent of the system and its
sensitivity is not publically available, but such a prototype system might be further
expanded to provide greater detection coverage within the Washington Metropolitan
Transit System or installed in other public transit systems to provide chemical95
detection ability. Expansion of such a system might prove costly, both in initial
costs and in maintenance. An assessment of how effective the current prototype
system has been, including whether it has an appreciable number of false signals or
the degree of testing the system has undergone in identifying compounds at
appropriately low concentrations, is not publicly available.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a nationwide system of air quality
detectors which it uses to monitor certain compounds, such as ozone and common

93 Eugene L. Berger, “Sensitivities of Selected Chemical Detectors,” MITRE Technical
Report, February, 2000.
94 False positives are of concern for military units as well. As a partial remedy to excessive
false positives in current military equipment, troops in the Persian Gulf were issued
chickens, which are considered especially sensitive to chemical agents, as chemical weapon
detectors. Ron Claiborne, “Chicken Warnings Aren’t for the Birds: U.S. Army Units Say
Chickens Are Reliable Gas Attack Detectors,” ABC News, February 25, 2003.
95 “Subway Defense Effort Picks Up Steam,” CBS News, September 27, 2001.

pollutants. A prototype system for detecting biological agents has been added to
selected detectors, with the goal of identifying covert biological weapon release.96
Whether a similar system could be developed to detect covert chemical weapon
release may be of interest to policymakers. Any such system would need to be
sensitive and provide timely data, while also providing detector coverage for an
appreciable outdoor area. In the prototype biological detection system being
implemented, samples are taken back to a laboratory and there tested for biological
material. This may be an effective method for testing for biological weapons, as
there is usually a multi-day incubation period for infection. In contrast to biological
weapons, chemical weapons cause their effects quickly. Any detector system
designed to monitor ambient air would need to respond immediately, a key criterion
in a “detect-to-warn” system. A chemical weapon’s effects would be detected
through the arrival of victims in hospitals before a laboratory test of detector samples
could be performed.
Additionally, the utility of such a detection grid might be in question if the
system is unable to detect small, but effective, amounts or releases which occur
within enclosed spaces. Development and maintenance of such a system may prove
costly, both in initial capital and in maintenance costs. Determining the density and
location of such monitors may also pose a difficult policy issue. The criteria used for
locating air quality monitors may not be equally appropriate for chemical agent
First Responder Equipment and Diagnostic Laboratories
First responder equipment is currently not standardized, with each jurisdiction
purchasing its own equipment. Whether all first responders should have standardized
equipment may be a topic of Congressional interest.97 Some first responder teams
feel well-equipped and prepared for a potential chemical attack, while others do not
yet have necessary equipment.98 While the National Institute of Justice has provided
a manual outlining the criteria by which chemical equipment might be assessed,99
some first responders have claimed that the federal government has not provided
enough oversight and direction regarding such esoteric purchases.100 Advocates of
allowing each community to choose what equipment to provide to first responders
point out that the needs of one community may not be the same as the next, and,
because of location, population, or previous expenditures, mandating specific

96 “U.S. Launching Bioterror Detectors: Nationwide System Uses Existing Air Pollution
Filters,” MSNBC, January 22, 2003.
97 Greg Seigle, “‘First Responders’ to Terrorism Seek Federal Strategy, Equipment,” Global
Security Newswire, March 6, 2002.
98 Kevin Flynn, “New York City Officials Defend Counterterror Training,” The New York
Times, February 14, 2003.
99 Guide for the Selection of Personal Protection Equipment for Emergency First
Responders, NIJ Guide 102 — 00 (Volumes I, IIa, IIb, and IIc), National Institute of Justice,
November, 2002.
100 Greg Seigle, “‘First Responders’ to Terrorism Seek Federal Strategy, Equipment,” Global
Security Newswire, March 6, 2002.

equipment purchases may not meet locality needs.101 The Department of Homeland
Security’s Standards Program will develop test and evaluation criteria and conduct
analyses for first responder detection equipment to help provide more guidance.102
The adequacy of current first responder equipment and its availability, whether
proper guidance has been given by the federal government to state and local
authorities regarding this equipment, and what steps may be required, through
oversight or legislation, to properly equip first responders, are also topics of potential
interest to policymakers.
Another area where equipment and methodologies are not standardized is the
testing of environmental samples. State public health laboratories, which might be
reasonably expected to handle analysis of samples from potentially contaminated
sites or perform confirmatory tests as to the identity of a chemical used in an attack,
have reported a lack of funding and planning regarding this topic.103 The Chemical
Terrorism Project of the Association of Public Health Laboratories has developed a
series of recommendations for improving the ability of public health laboratories to
respond to chemical terrorism.104 Thus, there may be interest in determining whether
federal agencies are fulfilling their role in providing validated testing methods for
diagnostic laboratories, whether appropriate support is available for testing
equipment for state laboratories, and what role the federal government should play
with respect to state laboratories.
Treatments and Prophylaxis
Because of the rarity of chemical weapon exposure, there has been little civilian
market for new treatments and prophylactics against them. Development and
identification of medications against chemical weapons is thus an area of limited
private sector research. Some have argued that without federal sponsorship of such
research, advances in this area will be very slow, and new treatments will not be
sufficiently developed. They assert that the federal government should commit to
purchasing fixed quantities of a successful new treatment in order to boost private-
sector funding of this research.105 They point out that without an assured market, the
private sector will not be willing to spend research and development money on
products. Others believe that committing to the purchase of unproven treatments will
not yield the best treatments and prophylaxis possible. Finally, some assert that

101 For more information on this topic, see CRS Report RL31475 First Responder Initiative:
Policy Issues and Options, by Ben Canada.
102 For more information on this topic, see CRS Report RL31680, Homeland Security:
Standards for State and Local Preparedness, by Ben Canada.
103 “Study Finds Public Health Laboratories Not Ready for Chemical Terrorism,”
Association of Public Health Laboratories, February 5, 2003.
104 See Chemical Terrorism Project, Ready or Not..., Association of Public Health
Laboratories, July, 2003.
105 For example, in the 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush announced Project
BioShield, which would invest $900 million for development and storage of weapon of mass
destruction countermeasures. There has been extensive action in Congress on this proposal.
For detailed information, see CRS Report RS21507 Project BioShield, by Frank Gottron.

improvements should be made to the general public health system, rather than
targeting low probability events.
Federal Emergency Response Teams
The possible use of federal response teams to augment local first responder
capabilities provokes differing responses. An investigation by the General
Accounting Office in 2000 found that “Federal response teams do not duplicate one
another.”106 On the other hand, the varied teams established by these agencies have
been called redundant.107 Also, the general structure of establishing regional teams
has been questioned, since there would be a delay in response due to required travel
time for a team.108 Others have advocated that parallel civilian and military response
teams may be necessary, since military teams might not be available to civilians
during wartime.
Related CRS Products
CRS Report RL31332, Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Terrorist Threat, by Steve
CRS Report RL31831, Terrorist Motivations for Chemical and Biological Weapons
Use: Placing the Threat in Context, by Audrey Kurth Cronin.
CRS Report RL31669, Terrorism: Background on Chemical, Biological, and Toxin
Weapons and Options for Lessening Their Impact, by Dana A. Shea.
CRS Report RL31475, First Responder Initiative: Policy Issues and Options, by Ben
CRS Report RL31853, Food Safety Issues in the 108th Congress, by Donna U. Vogt.
CRS Report RL31791, Emergency Management Funding for the Department of
Homeland Security: Information and Issues for FY2004, by Keith Bea,
Coordinator, Rob Buschmann, Ben Canada, Wayne Morrissey, C. Stephen
Redhead, and Shawn Reese.
CRS Report RL31530, Chemical Plant Security, by Linda-Jo Schierow.

106 General Accounting Office, Combating Terrorism: Federal Response Teams Provide
Varied Capabilities; Opportunities Remain to Improve Coordination, GAO-01-14,
November 2000.
107 Jonathan B. Tucker, “Chemical Terrorism: Assessing Threats and Responses,” in High-
Impact Terrorism: Proceedings of a Russian American Workshop, (Washington, DC:
National Academy Press) 2002.
108 Joshua Green, “Weapons of Mass Confusion,” The Washington Monthly, May 2001.

CRS Report RL30169, Export Administration Act of 1979 Reauthorization,
coordinated by Ian F. Fergusson.
CRS Issue Brief IB94029, Chemical Weapons Convention: Issues for Congress, by
Steven R. Bowman.
CRS Report RL31559, Proliferation Control Regimes: Background and Status, by
Sharon A. Squassoni, Coordinator, Steven R. Bowman, and, Carl E. Behrens.