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Environmental Impacts of Terrorism: Tools and Technologies to Protect and Prevent
|By: Ginny Hardy with S&T Liaison Division|
Terrorist attacks bring immediate death and destruction. They also bring environmental pollution, immediate and long-term. How can Canadian science and technology meet the challenge to protect Canadian air, soil, water and wildlife from the environmental impacts of terrorism?
After the initial shock of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York, the environmental implications of such destruction became the focus of many questions:
- What pollutants are released, and how can they be identified and measured in air, water and soil?
- How can their risk to the environment be assessed and managed?
- Are agencies equipped to monitor and assess the effects on air quality resulting from fire and debris?
- If the site of an attack requires clean-up, are the proper monitoring and remediation procedures in place to minimize the risks to the environment and to human health?
- Are clean-up targets or standards in place to decontaminate buildings and construction materials after a chemical or biological terrorist attack?
- Are proper procedures in place to decontaminate sites after a chemical or biological attack?
Seeking Solutions through S&T
In May 2002, the Department of National Defence launched the Chemical, Biological, Radiological-Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI) as the response by the Canadian federal science community to these kinds of terrorist threats. Environment Canada is one of 14 government science-based and security departments and agencies participating.
The Emergencies Science and Technology Division of the Environmental Science and Technology Centre (ESTC) has decades of experience in research and development on spilled hazardous materials. Staff have developed decontamination technologies and clean-up standards and assisted responders at real-spill incidents. They are now using their expertise to advance the work of CRTI and have organized many training exercises to assist member groups develop specific skill sets.
As part of the Initiative, the Emergencies Science and Technology Division designed a unique, mobile, sample-inspection facility to handle reception and triage of hazardous samples. This self-contained trailer houses a series of cabinets with special engineering and design features capable of handling a sample with unknown hazards. It enables Environment Canada’s emergency response personnel to safely examine and analyze hazardous samples from any incident, including a terrorist event, in a controlled environment, thereby minimizing the risk of exposure to hazardous materials.
A 3-year research and development program has provided guidelines for selecting and using the most suitable technologies for decontaminating and restoring building exteriors and interiors after a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack. This work was completed in partnership with other Canadian government agencies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and private sector companies. It will produce a first-of-its-kind operating manual to give first responders and others the information they need to safely and effectively use the multitude of decontamination technologies and equipment now available, and to make informed decisions when choosing among them.
The Emergencies Science and Technology Division is managing a major field project to demonstrate and evaluate advanced building decontamination technologies. Chemical and biological trials were conducted in Alberta in August 2006 and a radiological trial demonstration took place in late 2007.
A 4-year research and development project is in progress to develop standards when making decisions about decontamination measures after malicious release of chemical or biological agents. This work is conducted in partnership with other Canadian government departments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Leeds in England, and the Russian Research Institute of Hygiene, Toxicology and Occupational Pathology.
Most recently, the Division started two major CRTI-funded projects to develop advanced formulations for the chemical and radiological decontamination of buildings, sensitive equipment and soil, again working collaboratively with Canadian industry, academia and foreign research partners.
Transforming Knowledge into Action
Who can use these results?
Results of work to date have been communicated to stakeholders, and the users’ manual on building decontamination distributed. Research findings are published in research and technical journals and have been presented at a number of national and international conferences and symposia, gaining greater exposure and informing a wide international audience. New research partnerships have been developed with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the International Science and Technology Center, and the Bundeswehr Research Institute for Protective Technologies and NBC Protection (WIS) in Germany, among others.
In 1973 the Canadian federal government’s Cabinet approved a directive–1973 Cabinet Directive (1175-73RD). This Cabinet decision is at the origin of the Environmental Emergency program of Environment Canada. It represents an important document for this part of EC’s mandate and clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of the department during emergencies.
When the World Trade Center towers collapsed in 2001, the airborne dust that blanketed Lower Manhattan contained a mixture of asbestos, lead, glass fibres and concrete dust, among other substances. Fires at the site created emissions of potentially harmful and toxic pollutants, including particulate matter, various metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxins.
Benefits to Canadians
Many benefits to Canadians come from the work of the Emergencies Science and Technology Division to counter the impacts of terrorist attack. Public security is improved by better protection, detection and decontamination capabilities.
Researchers working in the interdepartmental CRTI initiative realized the need to account for new toxic products, created as chemical agents break down. Environment Canada scientists found that until recently this was a little-appreciated phenomenon, with major implications for the way in which decontamination products are applied and used to destroy the chemical agent and any degradation products. First responders can now make informed decisions to safeguard Canadians, based on better scientific information on how to decontaminate buildings and structures.
Standards for clean-up targets when decontaminating buildings and construction materials after a chemical or biological emergency will improve response procedures both in Canada and abroad. At present, worldwide, few standards are available for remediating sites contaminated by chemical warfare agents, fewer for toxic industrial chemicals, and none for biological agents.
Improved environmental forensic tools are valuable for prosecuting polluters and allocating costs of a clean-up to the party responsible for contamination, making for speedier and cheaper resolution of legal proceedings in environmental pollution cases.
Environment Canada has a legislated responsibility to develop knowledge and tools for oil and chemical spill preparedness. The work to counteract environmental impacts of terrorist attacks has enhanced the Department’s ability to provide this to the Canadian public. Scientists have increased their knowledge and capacity for taking forensic samples, enhancing their ability to support legislation such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1999).
For more information:
Volchek, K. and G. Thouin. 2006. Foam on the Range. CBRNe World, Winter 2006.
S&T Liaison | Tel 905 315 5228 | Fax 905 336 4420
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Environment, 2008.
Catalogue No. En164-17/1-2008E-PDF; ISBN 978-0-662-48355-7
- Date Modified: