In Chapter 2, a number of grand challenges for chemists and chemical engineers were delineated to promote national security and homeland defense, based on the views of workshop participants. This chapter goes one step further to identify scientific barriers that prevent those challenges from being met.
Threat reduction involves any action taken prior to a terrorist act that serves to decrease the likelihood of an attack or to mitigate or eliminate the adverse effects of an attack on U.S. territory, on its population, and on its soldiers and property abroad. The best method of threat reduction would be to reduce and remove the incentives for terrorist acts, but this is beyond the scope of our charge. As a chemically related alternative, it would be desirable to have a detection system that can alert us to the mere possibility of attack and that may even avert a planned action. This system would be able to detect chemical and biological residues, and chemical and biological agents in sealed containers. Such a chemical detector could test for residues of weapons or their precursors on the hands of captured enemy soldiers, suspected criminals, suspicious dead bodies, or even airline passengers. With this type of technology, incidents could be prevented and weapons production laboratories large and small could be shut down, perhaps before production begins.
In the same vein, customs officials have stated that it is impossible to inspect all the containers entering the United States—in fact, currently only 2 percent of
all containers are inspected. 1 An automated rapid-sensing detection system for chemical and biological weapons or precursors in closed containers would enable customs inspectors to ensure that a container's contents are indeed safe and to ensure the inspectors' personal safety if contents were a hazardous material. Automation also allows a much larger percentage of containers, if not all containers, to be inspected. This way, chemical and biological—perhaps even nuclear and radiological—weapons contents could be contained, neutralized, and controlled by the proper government authorities before entering the country.
Chemical and biological detection is a multifaceted puzzle. Some current detector technologies cannot achieve the sensitivity needed to detect trace amounts of chemicals that may be escaping from sealed containers or that remain on a suspect's hands. Some detection methods for chemicals and biologicals are not specific enough to sense agents through the background (smoke, perfume, or body odor, for example) collected concomitantly with the sample. Better specificity is also needed to sense agents when additional chemical or biological species are used that mask or mimic a weapon. Not all detection methods are quick, as needed for applications at sites like airports nor are all detection methods able to be used at varied distances. Although it is necessary to develop the ability to detect harmful chemicals through closed containers, suitcases, and other such items, it is also essential that the techniques are noninvasive and that the privacy of the individual is respected. Detection methods must also be nondestructive to the material from which a sample is taken. These are just a few of the representative barriers to improved detection technology.
Historically, the transportation industry has made strong efforts to advance accident prevention measures; 2 nevertheless, new and different actions may be needed to reduce the likelihood of a terrorist attack. For example, currently tank cars of chemicals that can react with each other to form a hazardous compound may be juxtaposed on trains. The chemical community could create guidelines, though the extra burden on the railroads due to the imposition of those guidelines may not be welcome and thus government regulation and enforcement may be required. Other barriers to safer transportation, such as appropriate placarding (labeling of tank car contents) or improved tracking systems, may be overcome by new regulations. For those regulations to be well-developed and scientifically sound, chemists, chemical engineers, and other scientists should assist in their development.
Chemicals in transport are frequently placed in storage tanks pending transfer to barges, ships, or tank trucks. Storage tanks are also used at manufacturing and
1R. L. Garwin. 2002, Thoughts and Questions on Countering the Terrorist Threat. Presentation, Workshop on National Security and Homeland Defense, Irvine, CA. (See Appendix D.)
2National Research Council. 1994. Ensuring Railroad Tank Car Safety. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, pp. 1, 4-7.
Richard L. Garwin
Council on Foreign Relations, New York
Approximately 1 million 8 ft x 8 ft containers enter the United States monthly, and only 2 percent of them are inspected in any way before delivery. These uninspected containers could hold nuclear weapons, contaminated items, biological weapons, or dissemination devices. How can these items be prevented from entering the country?
One safety measure discussed for trucks traveling from Canada is called SafeT Pass; it would work as follows. A truck carrying freight is inspected at its point of origin. Tags and seals are used to ensure that the consignment is safe and is not tampered with, that the truck has not had freight added along its route, and that the driver is certified and has been with the vehicle for the entire journey. SafeT Pass holders also have information on file showing that they have had an extensive interview and background check, which does not need to be repeated at each border crossing. This system could alleviate traffic problems at borders and ease the burden on inspectors.
industrial processing locations. Often, the storage areas are protected only by tall fences and perhaps security personnel. Storage tanks may contain tens of thousands of gallons of flammable or toxic chemicals that can be stolen or released with little effort. Thus far, storage areas and tank farms have not been troublesome, but the potential exists for terrorist actions using such tanks. Efforts must be made to make storage tanks more secure and especially to reduce the need for chemical storage by developing in-process chemical production and use.
Another barrier to threat reduction is public attitude toward chemistry, unawareness of the true nature of chemical and biological terrorism, and the risks involved in each. In an attack, damage inflicted by a chemical or biological weapon can be exacerbated by rash decision making and panic. Personal injury and even death could be minimized if first responders and the general public knew what steps to take to prepare themselves for entering and escaping contaminated areas, respectively. The immense nature of such an undertaking is overwhelming, and to find an organization to lead the effort would be difficult. Nevertheless, chemists and chemical engineers, together with other scientists, must play a large role in such a scenario.
Finally, the potential of threat is reduced if hazardous materials are less available. In this vein, more work is needed on process intensification and process
redesign to minimize the accumulation and storage of hazardous intermediates and products. 3
The second grand challenge, preparation, is as important as threat reduction, since preventive measures will not preclude all terrorist attacks. Though chemical and biological weapons are many and varied, a common set of barriers in basic science exist that can be overcome to increase our readiness.
We need to have drugs, antidotes, and cures for the weapons of mass destruction that terrorists are likely to use. To develop medicinal countermeasures, the basic science involved must first be understood. For both chemical and biological weapons, the process of molecular recognition by elements of the human body is of utmost importance. However, we do not have a clear understanding of protein surface interactions, the relationship of genes to protein function, and how viruses infect and replicate. All of these processes are chemical in nature and cannot be solved without knowledge of the chemical sciences.
It is of great advantage to invest effort in pharmaceutical research before the need for certain drugs actually arises. As chemists, we can develop better methods for the identification of drug targets and drugs themselves, including cell-specific medicines. Antibiotic-resistant strains and genetically modified organisms are real concerns for which there is currently no easy solution. Theoretical and computational methods are not yet able to identify problems with therapeutic agents early in the design process. Testing protocols for broad spectrum antivirals should be developed and clinical trials of pharmaceuticals should be completed so the public can be confident in the aftermath of an attack.
Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Research
The infrastructure of national security and homeland defense research needs improvement. Though many scientists are interested in assisting national security efforts, researchers who work with dangerous or infectious materials often have difficulties obtaining authorization for their work and even for receiving their samples. Additionally, research is not as efficient as possible due to lack of industry collaboration; of access to intellectual property (IP) and classified information; and of peer review of research proposals, engineered applications, and
3S. D. Cunningham. 2002, What Can the Industrial Chemical Community Contribute to the Nation's Security. Presentation, Workshop on National Security and Homeland Defense, Irvine, CA. (See Appendix D.)
A Lack of Vaccines?
David R. Franz
Southern Research Institute
To some, it seems that there has been a paucity of high-quality vaccines related to chemical and biological terrorist threats for U.S. residents. Until very recently, though, the Department of Defense (DOD) has been the only organization interested in vaccines for these types of threats. DOD has spent a large amount of money on the research and development for such vaccines with great success—in the last 8 years or so, approximately 12 new vaccines have been developed and proven effective on rhesus monkeys.
To advance development beyond this point becomes difficult, because DOD lacks knowledge and experience with pharmaceutical regulatory issues. They may need to partner with a large pharmaceutical company as a government contractor to develop, build, and run an agency similar to a national vaccine facility. Problems with this concept arise when indemnification is considered, because it is not only infrastructure that is of concern, it is also people. Vaccines invade the body, and the likelihood is that vaccines may cause two or three out of a million people to die. Neither the pharmaceutical companies nor the government is willing to take such a risk.
products intended for mass production. Some of these problems could be alleviated by creating a national center for chemical and biological testing, although such an endeavor would prove to be expensive.
Current intellectual property rules and regulations are hindering the progress of research that could be valuable to national security and homeland defense. One example, the inability to access internal IP, is a large barrier to development of basic scientific principles and related applied technology. Inexperience in technology transfer and the fragmentation of IP also makes it difficult for useful collaboration to occur. The National Technology Alliance, a government program, has succeeded in removing some of these barriers from the corporate world, but many more hurdles remain.
Graduate education and research is generally not designed to prepare students to address real-world issues in technology, especially national security related concerns. Students' fields of study tend to be narrow with limited exposure to research and issues in other scientific disciplines. The research that is envisioned as most beneficial to national security is often interdisciplinary—an intersection of chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, and materials science. Graduate
education is slowly changing: there are some graduate departments that recognize subdisciplines such as biochemistry, organometallic chemistry, polymer chemistry, biomedical chemical engineering, materials chemical engineering, and environmental chemical engineering. Additionally, over the past 6 years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has sponsored over 100 award sites through the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program that promotes cultural changes in education by providing “a fertile environment for collaborative [multidisciplinary] research that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries.” 4 Nevertheless, graduate curricula do not usually reflect the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary nature of research that would impact the technology base, economy, and safety of our society. To have the desired impact, changes are needed at the graduate level to properly prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Related to interdisciplinary research and education is the notion of systems and the design and analysis of interrelated processes, with each individual process being subordinate to the system as a whole. Systems engineering considers how chemical processes are configured, controlled, and operated to maximize performance, productivity, safety, reliability, environmental impact, and other process attributes. It requires an understanding of basic chemistry and chemical engineering principles, but goes further by linking these principles to develop a chemical product or process. A systems perspective is rarely seen in graduate programs in the chemical sciences, but graduate students would be well served if they were at least introduced to such thinking because it would prepare them for the world encountered after graduate study. Certainly an appreciation of systems thinking would better prepare graduates of each discipline to contribute to the country's future needs in homeland security.
The third grand challenge, situational awareness, poses the most numerous research challenges for chemists and chemical engineers. The science of sensing and detecting involves a wide variety of technologies and requires expertise in many different fields.
Sampling, though seemingly simple, is perhaps one of the most difficult steps in chemical and biological agent detection. The problems arise in ensuring that the sample taken represents the media sampled, which depends on proper local mixing. Concentrators must be developed that can circulate great quantities of air without clogging or losing effectiveness and that can concentrate the desired molecules. Recognizing and removing environmental interferences and background effects, for example, those due to geographical and temperature variability, cannot be done through improved sampling methods, but can only be accomplished
using a variety of techniques including electronic software, hardware, multivariate analysis, statistical analysis, and others. More efficient methods of separation, especially at the microlevel, are also crucial.
Preparation of an environmental sample for delivery to the sensor and the sample cleanup afterwards are often the rate-limiting steps in the detection of biological agents, as well. Even for biodetection, sample preparation is a chemistry and materials science issue, currently accomplished using membranes and surface-active chemistries, binders, and ligands. Biological sample preparation remains an embryonic field.
Sensors and detectors require different technology for different uses. Even the smallest tabletop mass spectrometer in a standard research laboratory cannot be converted into a rugged, lightweight model that a soldier, HAZMAT team member, or first responder could carry. Room temperature detectors; label-free detection (for example, without fluorescent beads); and low-cost, real-time analysis of airborne particles are barriers to widespread monitoring of chemical and biological weapons in public areas. Other obstacles that need to be surmounted by chemists and chemical engineers include improved nanoscale fabrication methods, better microfluidics and macro-microscale interfaces, better high-throughput screening, more efficient heat exchangers, and lighter batteries. Engineers are also challenged to integrate new technological components into a useful finished product.
To develop robust sensors, a multidisciplinary systems approach must be taken. Experimentalists, statisticians, engineers, and data analysts must be included from the beginning of the idea to the fielding of the sensor. Statistically designed experimentation must be used in the development of the field worthiness of a sensor, with statisticians a close collaborator of chemical and biological scientists. Actual and potential interferences must be identified and dealt with either through design of hardware, multiple sensor types, or multivariate techniques, or through software development such as statistical analysis. Sensor calibration and drift need to be addressed and corrected either mathematically or through chemical hardware.
Once developed, detectors and sensors need to be tested according to strict criteria. A well-defined and very demanding set of test standards, including limits of detection, has been in place for the last 15 years, initiated by the Department of Defense. The U.S. Army periodically offers the opportunity for realistic field testing, and wind tunnel testing is available at several official sites. It is imperative that scientists take advantage of existing resources for technology validation. It would be useful to develop new, integrated, multiple source databases to create chemical and biological agent libraries for quick agent identification and access to neutralization methods. Libraries already exist in many individual agencies, and there is a need for consolidation. Such libraries could also contain information on trace components of weapons that offer a signature of where or by whom the agents were produced to aid in identification of the criminals involved.
Donald H. Stedman
University of Denver
The task of developing chemical or biological detectors for field use is not simple. Of equal importance, though, is the ease of maintenance of these detectors. During Desert Storm, the energy in the batteries of the M8A1 Automatic Chemical Agent Alarm carried by each soldier was continually low. The M8A1 works by pumping an air sample through a filter into the analyzer. Because the air in Iraq was full of sand, it clogged the filters very rapidly, which caused the air pumps to work harder and the instruments' batteries to die sooner than expected. The dead batteries would cause the alarm to sound.
Instead of replacing the air filters every three days as prescribed, it was, in reality, necessary to replace the filters every three hours. To perform maintenance every three hours is an unreasonable expectation— it is hard enough to do during the day, but it would also require a soldier to wake up multiple times in the middle of the night. Clearly, maintenance issues are equally critical to the usefulness of the instrument as is ensuring it works properly in the first place.
THREAT NEUTRALIZATION AND REMEDIATION
Neutralization and remediation of a chemical or biological threat is an area of research that has previously been confined to military and government laboratories. Now that such a threat is real, decontamination and remediation research must be expanded to academic and industrial laboratories. It has been made clear that civilian safety, too, is in jeopardy; hence scientists must become concerned with innovative and improved measures for collective protection (for example, filtration of chemical and biological agents from circulated air). Agent dispersal should be understood for scenarios at varied sites, various length scales (for example, human to room to region dimensions), and under different convective conditions due to weather or air circulation patterns. Also, there currently is no general-purpose decontamination method for all types of surfaces that can get into small crevices and is safe for use on all materials, nontoxic to humans, and environmentally benign. Standard testing criteria for decontaminants must be developed.