Thursday, December 16, 2004

All Wrong

Did you happen to wonder where that unlicensed doctor from Florida got the botox he injected into his hapless patients? If so, you're not alone:

Homeland Security restrictions should have prevented an unlicensed doctor in Broward County from buying concentrated botulinum toxin, widely recognized as the most poisonous substance and a feared bioterrorism agent.

Yet the deadly toxin that landed four Florida residents in intensive care last month was made in a California lab, marketed by an Arizona biological supply company and shipped to Broward without raising any alarms.
So far, so good. Homeland security is a toothless surprises there. But get this:
"A single gram of crystalline toxin, evenly dispersed and inhaled, would kill more than a million people," the Journal of the American Medical Association reported, "although technical factors would make such dissemination difficult."
"Difficult" is an understatement; "impossible," though also inaccurate, would be closer to the truth. The chance of a terrorist killing a million people with a gram of botulinum toxin is effectively nil.

Surely this is the worst of all possible worlds: the threat from bioterrorism gets blown completely out of proportion by the media, while the Department of Homeland Security allows bioterror agents to be marketed, sold, and injected into people by unlicensed doctors. Good job, everyone! Take a nice long've earned it!


Anonymous said...

The only gram of a chemical those bozos have any really lucid idea about is the gram of crack they were smoking when they wrote that inane tripe about the botulism toxin.

Actually... if evenly dispersed and inhaled, concentrated botulism would kill well over 2 million people (giving them 70kg as an average weight), but picky picky. I worked out the LD50 for myself, and that's the number I got. However, to get that amount of botulism dispersed perfectly evenly for even one million people? Without getting caught? I do believe some of the two million people would kinda notice if you crop-dusted a major metro area at an exceedlingly low altitude, which is just about the only high-speed delivery system that could affect that many people (hope everyone on the plane has some mondo biohazard protection gear!). A bomb, or even a cluster of them, wouldn't disperse widely enough, and it won't be even enough.

Personally, I believe JAMA's motives weren't entirely to help out DHS. More likely, they used DHS to give themselves a bit of free p.r. and scare people with a reminder to trust no one but a "licensed" doctor.

But getting off the Vicodin has made me really cynical...

Anonymous said...

Dammit--I guess I'd better come up with a handle, so I don't have to remember to sign off here.

Above, me, etc.


Phila said...

It kind of ties in with what I was saying below. Figuring LD50 is fine for a laboratory, but it realy doesn't tell you what'll happen in the real world. The problem is, we keep trying to pretend that CBW are efficient "weapons of mass destruction." They're not. They're very good weapons for terrorism; they're very good for causing panic and causing huge economic problems - which is why people shouldn't be able to order them through the goddamn US mail - but they're hard to use and unpredictable. We've got some weird obsession with things aren't really serious unless they can kill a million people at one stroke. This combination of hysteria about apocalyptic worst-case scenarios, and insouciance about low-budget attacks, is a huge, huge mistake. You know how it is...100 people dead here, 200 hundred there, and pretty soon you're talking about mass murder.

Anonymous said...

As usual, Phila, we're in sync here. The schism between theory and practice doesn't seem to occur to the people it needs to, and certain people exploit it, as you inferred. That snaps my garters.

However, the exploited have only themselves to blame, in a way. The first time I'd heard of an LD50 was tonight, when I did a quick Google on toxicity levels. I wondered why JAMA came up with the 1 million (I actually expected it to be lower). I did the barest of digging, broke out a calculator, and came up with the rest. But then I thought, well, how would someone infect even 1 million people with botulism in one fell swoop? And the answer was pretty apparent: It would take a frickin' miracle.

It's really sad that people are so incurious and devoid of the ability to think and reason and imagine that they'd see that number and start screaming about the sky falling. You know that's the response 90% of the people who even bothered to read this had to the big Mil. And it was the intended effect.