ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Emergency personnel responding to a terrorist release of chemical or biological warfare agents will be faced with a dilemma: If they enter the scene without knowing the dangers, they might become a victim. If they wait to evaluate, more people might die -- or worse, an agent could spread and cause widespread casualties.
A better option may be available soon. Researchers at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories have created a foam that begins neutralizing both chemical and biological agents in minutes. Because it is not harmful to people, it could be dispensed on the disaster scene immediately, even before casualties are evacuated.
Its developers think the decontaminating foam soon may be the best first response available in the event of a chem-bio attack.
"Whatever you do, it's best to act very quickly," says co-developer Maher Tadros of Sandia. "This foam can start neutralizing an agent or combinations of agents right away, even before you know what you're dealing with."
The U.S. has a number of strategies to deter a chemical or biological attack from ever occurring in this country, says Greg Thomas, Sandia program manager for chem-bio nonproliferation. "But if we are attacked," he says, "we'll need to have the tools available to respond."
One decontaminant, all chem-bio agents
In laboratory tests at Sandia the foam destroyed simulants of the most worrisome chemical agents (VX, mustard, and soman) and killed a simulant of anthrax -- the toughest known biological agent.
Against the anthrax simulant, the foam achieved what the researchers call a 7-log kill -- after one hour only one anthrax spore out of 10 million is still alive.
International law prohibits the Sandia researchers from possessing real chemical
or biological agents, but they have taken samples of the foam to the Illinois
Institute of Technology in Chicago where the foam was tested against actual VX,
mustard gas, and som
Contact: john german
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories