- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

In an attack using chemical, biological or radioactive weapons, the difference between life and death could depend on what people have on hand and whether they know what to look for, what to use and what to do, an expert told rescue workers in Rockville yesterday.

"There may not be much time to respond, but outcomes improve if people know what to look for, what to use and what to do," said Eric R. Taylor, a former nuclear, biological and chemical weapons officer in the Army

Mr. Taylor, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, was one of 20 speakers at the second annual Decontamination/Weapons of Mass Destruction Symposium at the University of Maryland, Shady Grove Center. The three-day North American conference ends tomorrow.

What is clear is that the unanticipated attacks on civilians and military personnel in the United States have emergency managers rethinking their plans and regular folks wondering how they would be warned in a terrorist attack, which could involve explosive, chemical or biological weapons.

"It really is dependent on the situation," said John Scholz, a firefighter and emergency-preparedness spokesman for Anne Arundel County, Md.

"With any disaster, the question is, How much time do we have?" said Reginald Parks, director of Prince George's County's Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Mr. Taylor said the Federal Emergency Management Agency could help by publishing easy guides to general symptoms of agents that might be used as weapons.

People are better prepared for an attack if they have reviewed procedures for evacuating and "sheltering in place" and have a disaster supply kit on hand.

The kit should include portable, battery-operated radios and flashlights, extra batteries, a first-aid kit and manual, any medications needed, a three-day supply of nonperishable food and water (one gallon per person, per day), a can opener, utility knife, utensils, hygiene items, toilet paper, towelettes, and baby and pet food and supplies (including carriers).

Although few people have the sophisticated garments and decontamination agents used by police, fire and rescue workers, they often can improvise with what's on hand.

"Anything that will offer a barrier between you and the agent is better than nothing," Mr. Taylor said.

A handkerchief or washcloth folded into layers can be used as a makeshift filter for breathing. Activated-charcoal masks available at hardware stores also provide protection. And while closing one's eyes can help, inexpensive swimming goggles are better.

Wearing rubberized boots, overalls, gloves, raincoats, waders and shower caps can limit exposure to some caustic chemicals and contaminants, he said.

Small doses of contaminants that adults could survive can be lethal to children, small adults and pets, so they need immediate and extra protection.

Mr. Taylor said if contaminants are released in the air, windows, doors and vents should be closed and indoor cooling systems should be turned off. If air inside a building is warmer than air outside it, contaminated outdoor air will push inside, he explained.

Although assaults might come in the form of a spray or a gas, persistent agents including lethal chemicals settle in low-lying areas.

That means people may be safer staying put or moving to a higher spot, rather than evacuating a building. It also means that playgrounds, sandboxes, basements and ductwork would need to be decontaminated.

Some household cleaners including chlorine laundry bleach and a pool cleaner known as HTH are weak versions of decontaminates the military uses, and they can help, Mr. Taylor said.

"Oxy-Clean" has been shown to destroy many pathogenic bacteria, he said. Also useful against some contaminants are hydrogen peroxide, some drain and oven cleaners, detergents, vinegar and vegetable oil.

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