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Logo of SPORE. Text says, "Scientific Program on Reaerosolization and Exposure. DOD. HHS. DHS. EPA."

Anthrax in the Air?

EPA Homeland Security researchers and their partners are studying the potential for anthrax to "reaerosolize" in outdoor, urban environments following a bio-terrorist incident.

It's not hard to imagine the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack using Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) spores. Emergency crews in bio-hazard suits survey the scene. A perimeter is established around large, evacuated areas, while victims are tended to by health professionals.

But what next? As clean up is planned and executed, can decision makers count on any settled spores staying put? Do environmental factors cause the spores to become airborne from outdoor, urban surfaces, and potentially enter buildings, vehicles, or other occupied areas?

Wind Tunnel Tests

EPA researchers are testing many of the factors that influence reaersolization of anthrax surrogates in a specially designed wind tunnel using non infectious B. thuringiensis (Bt) spores.

Research partners from the U.S. Army will conduct similar tests with B. anthracis at the Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) using the methods and equipment developed by EPA and DPG to determine the best non- infectious surrogates to use in experiments in the place of B. anthracis.

Following these chamber studies, the multi-Agency SPORE will conduct additional experiments to track the potential inhalation threats of reaerosolized spores.

Photo of a wind tunnel inside EPA laboratories.

If spores do move about, how does this situation influence the choice of clean up approaches and public health responses (exposure of workers and the public, sampling strategies, immunizations, clean up technology, etc.)?

Answering the above questions is the focus of a new, coordinated set of studies called the Scientific Program on Reaerosolization and Exposure (SPORE) — conducted collaboratively by EPA's Homeland Security Research Program (HSRP), the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, and other research partners.

SPORE researchers have already found that reaerosolization of anthrax spores can occur; however, more studies are needed to fully understand reaerosolization and improve our ability to estimate exposures to responders and civilians under various scenarios.

Over the next several years, SPORE will study and evaluate the biological properties of anthrax spores, anthrax dispersion and reaerosolization in a simulated outdoor urban environment, and potential impacts on public health. The results of this research will better inform field activities in the event of an actual anthrax attack. Ultimately, the goal is to make communities more resilient to anthrax attacks by not only protecting public health but by returning contaminated areas to use more quickly and economically.

 

Learn More

The Homeland Security Issue of Science Matters

EPA Homeland Security Research

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