Bioterrorism, Chemical and Radiological Emergencies

Although unlikely, manmade or naturally occurring emergencies involving biological agents, chemical agents, or radiation are always a possibility. Working with Federal, state, and local agencies, PHP acts to safeguard the public in case of such incidents through emergency planning and in-state coordination of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).

SNS is a Federally run system of getting crucial medication to a local population in the event of a bioterrorism incident, chemical or radiological emergency, or a major natural disaster. These life-saving medications or vaccines are quickly distributed through point of dispensing sites, or PODS, to large numbers of people during a public health emergency. To find out more about PODs, please visit our Strategic National Stockpile page.

Bioterrorism

A bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs (agents) used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. Biological agents can be spread through the air, through water, or in food, and may be used by terrorists. Some bioterrorism agents, like the smallpox virus, can be spread from person to person and some, like anthrax, cannot.

What are biological agents?

Biological agents are viruses, bacteria or other germs that can be found naturally occurring in the environment. An act of bioterrorism involves the deliberate release of harmful biological agents to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. Bioterrorism agents can be spread through the air or put into food or water, and can be extremely difficult to detect. Some biological agents, like the smallpox virus, can be spread from person to person, while some, such as anthrax, cannot.

The following are common biological agents of concern for bioterrorism:

Anthrax
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Botulism
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Brucellosis
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Plague
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Smallpox
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Tularemia
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Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF)
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Chemical Emergencies

A chemical emergency is the release of a hazardous material that has the potential for harming people’s health. Chemical releases can be unintentional, as in the case of an industrial accident, or intentional, as in the case of a terrorist attack.

What are chemical agents?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a chemical emergency as occurring “when a hazardous chemical has been released and the release has the potential for harming people’s health.” Chemical releases can be unintentional, as in the case of an industrial accident, or intentional, as in the case of a terrorist attack.

Some chemical agents are manmade and some can be found in nature. Many hazardous chemical agents are used in industry, while others have been developed specifically for military use in warfare, such as sarin and sulfur mustards. The following are common chemical agents of concern:

Radiation
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Ricin
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Sarin
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Sulfur
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VX
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Radiological Emergencies

A radiological emergency is the accidental or deliberate release of radiation, a form of energy that can come from natural sources like the sun or uranium in soil, and also from manmade sources such as x-ray machines and microwave ovens. Although people are exposed to very small amounts of radiation every day, nuclear or radiation emergencies could expose people to large amounts of radiation that can endanger their life.

What is Radiation?

Radiation is a form of energy that can come from natural sources like the sun or uranium in soil, and also from manmade sources such as x-ray machines and microwave ovens. People are exposed to very small amounts of radiation every day.

Nuclear or radiation emergencies could expose people to large amounts of radiation. A radiation emergency could result from a nuclear power plant accident, the explosion of a nuclear device, or a dirty bomb. A dirty bomb is an explosive, like dynamite, that contains radioactive materials. Blasts from these explosions can cause deaths, serious injuries and property damage.

Exposure to very large doses of radiation may cause death within a few days or months; exposure to lower doses of radiation may lead to an increased risk of developing cancer or other adverse health effects years in the future.

In a radiation emergency, officials will monitor the amount of radiation and advise the public what to do. The DOH will oversee clean-up and removal of any dangerous materials.

To learn more about radiation emergencies, visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Download brochures about radiation emergencies:

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