Chemical attack possible, not probable

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 4, 2001

Staff Writer

With the threat of war in the backs of minds, many are realizing warfare is not what it used to be.

It was with Desert Storm that many began to realize how much warfare has changed and the idea of chemical and biological warfare is more than a strong possibility.

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Gas weapons were first used in 1914 during World War I. Since that time, toxic chemicals have posed a treat to military personnel and the average citizen.

Although some international treaties put limits on the manufacture and use of chemical weapons, many countries have the ability to use chemical warfare.

Pike County Emergency Management Agency Director Larry Davis is aware of the potential hazards, but is not fearful for the future, as far as chemical and biological warfare are concerned.

"We don’t need to get in the habit of being afraid to leave our homes," Davis said of the fear many United States citizens seem to have expressed. "The biggest thing is not to panic. We can survive anything if we work together."

Although he believes the possibilities are limited, Davis admits "it is frightening" to think of what could happen.

In Pike County, the ability to fight chemical warfare is limited and help would have to come from the outside, Davis said, adding the National Guard has a chemical company in Selma.

"We would have to depend so much on the military and bomb squads that are equipped to handle such matters," Davis said.

But, there’s little anyone can do.

"You would have to wear a gas mask all the time," Davis said, adding a person only has 30 seconds to know and treat the symptoms of nerve gas.

"If you smell it, you’re history," he said of nerve gas. "Gas masks and stuff like that are useless, really."

One option, Davis said, is inground storage shelters, but the average citizens would just have to shut themselves inside a building, close off vents and seal windows and doors with tape so the chemical agents can not be ingested.

Biological warfare is even less of a threat, Davis predicts.

According to the World Health Organization, a certain time must pass before immunity develops after a vaccine, but that does not mean everyone should rush out and be vaccinated.

"I wouldn’t recommend everyone being vaccinated against Anthrax," Davis said.

All in all, Davis said, the best thing to do is go ahead with normal activities and "not let terrorists get the best of us."