Chemical Terrorism

September 26, 2001

Various nations have developed and produced chemical weapons -- substances whose main use is to harm people -- such as nerve gas or mustard gas. The use of such agents has been restricted or banned under various international treaties since before 1899. Nonetheless, stocks still exist, and it is possible to produce them, either in industrial plants or smaller-scale labs. Some military nerve agents, for example, are closely related to organophosphate pesticides, and could be manufactured at pesticide plants.

The hazards became more evident after the March 20, 1995, attack by the religious cult AUM Shinrikyo on the Tokyo subway with the nerve gas sarin, which killed a dozen people and injured hundreds of others.

Check in with your state emergency authorities, local fire and police departments, and hospital emergency rooms, to find out more about their planning and preparedness for chemical terrorism incidents.

  • National Domestic Preparedness Office: 202-324-9026, email. This multi-agency body, housed at the FBI, is supposed to coordinate, equip, and train state and local emergency responders to weapons-of-mass-destruction incidents.
  • Henry L. Stimson Center: This foundation-funded think tank runs a Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project. Contact:Amy E. Smithson, 202-223-5956. Extensive background.
  • Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (Netherlands): +31-70-416 3300, email. This group offers much background related to the treaty known (for short) as the Chemical Weapons Convention, adopted in Geneva in 1992 after decades of painful negotiation.

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