New method for chemoterrorism developed

Published 12 June 2009

Chemical terrorism does not receive as much press as bioterrorism; still, poisoning the air, water, and food supply using chemicals can do major harm and terrorize, intimidate, or coerce governments or civilian populations; scientists develop a new method to detect chemical attacks

Chemical terrorism does not receive as much press as bioterrorism, but the objectives are the same and the means even more readily available. In both cases, the purpose is to intimidate or coerce governments or civilian populations, to further political or social objectives. The difference is the method: chemoterrorism means poisoning the air, water, and food supply using chemicals such as caustic acids, arsine, benzene, cyanide, hydrofluoric acid, mustard/T, ricin, sarin, and others.

Bioterrorism involves releasing biologic agents or toxins, such as anthrax, brucella, cholera, e.coli 0157:H7, glanders, ricin toxin, typhoid fever, viral hemorrhagic fever, or any communicable disease. It may be difficult to get hold of anthrax, but many poisons are as easy to get as going down to the local hardware or gardening store.

Israel21c quotes Israeli physicist Professor Abraham Katzir to say that urban water supplies are particularly vulnerable to chemoterror, says . Colorless and odorless liquids can not be seen by the human eye and water supplies aren’t necessarily subject to daily testing.

With many skyscrapers holding water reserves on the top of the building, a terrorist only needs to introduce poison into a tank to wreak havoc. “A terrorist wouldn’t have to kill tens of thousands of people. Only 50 deaths — as horrible as that would be - would cause nationwide panic.”

Now, to combat the threat of contamination due to sabotage, industrial spillage or natural disaster, Katzir has developed a new system that uses a part of the infrared (IR) spectrum seen only by snakes or vampire bats, to monitor the safety of a building or community’s water supply — and in real time.

Under Katzir’s direction, Tel Aviv University’s applied physics group has been involved for more than ten years in research and development of devices that operate in the mid-IR spectrum (3-30 microns). The group has developed semiconductor lasers, electro-optical systems and optical fibers for this spectral range, in particular, crystalline fibers made of silver halides (AgClBr). One development, a laser bonding system that would allow surgeons to weld instead of suture tissue, has already received a great deal of media interest.

Now Katzir is making news again, this time with a special IR fiber that could help protect water supplies from bio and chemo-terrorism as well as ecological disaster.

Katzir has personal reasons for warning ordinary citizens against the threat of attack. His father, world-renowned scientist Professor Aharon Katzir, was killed in 1972 at the Lod Airport massacre, in which