Sverdlovsk anthrax leak

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On the 2nd of April 1979, spores of anthrax were accidentally released from a Soviet military research facility near the city of Sverdlovsk, Russia (now Yekaterinburg). The ensuing outbreak of the disease resulted in approximately 100 deaths, although the exact number of victims remains unknown. The cause of the outbreak was denied for years by the Soviet authorities, which blamed the deaths on consumption of tainted meat from the area, and subcutaneous exposure due to butchers handling the tainted meat. All medical records of the victims were removed to hide serious violations of the Biological Weapons Convention. The accident is sometimes referred to as "biological Chernobyl". [1]

Anthrax Infection caused by Bacillus anthracis bacteria

Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It can occur in four forms: skin, lungs, intestinal, and injection. Symptoms begin between one day and two months after the infection is contracted. The skin form presents with a small blister with surrounding swelling that often turns into a painless ulcer with a black center. The inhalation form presents with fever, chest pain, and shortness of breath. The intestinal form presents with diarrhea which may contain blood, abdominal pains, and nausea and vomiting. The injection form presents with fever and an abscess at the site of drug injection.

Subcutaneous tissue lowermost layer of the integumentary system in vertebrates

The subcutaneous tissue, also called the hypodermis, hypoderm, subcutis, or superficial fascia, is the lowermost layer of the integumentary system in vertebrates. The types of cells found in the hypodermis are fibroblasts, adipose cells, and macrophages. The hypodermis is derived from the mesoderm, but unlike the dermis, it is not derived from the dermatome region of the mesoderm. In arthropods, the hypodermis is an epidermal layer of cells that secretes the chitinous cuticle. The term also refers to a layer of cells lying immediately below the epidermis of plants.

Biological Weapons Convention Treaty banning production of bioweapons

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the production of an entire category of weapons.

Contents

Background

The closed city of Sverdlovsk had been a major production center of the Soviet military-industrial complex since World War II. It produced tanks, nuclear rockets and other armaments. A major nuclear accident happened in this region in 1957, when a nuclear waste facility exploded (known as the Kyshtym disaster), resulting in the spread of radioactive dust over a thousand square kilometers. The biological weapons facility in Sverdlovsk was built after World War II, using documentation captured in Manchuria from the Japanese germ warfare program. [1]

Closed city settlement where specific authorization is required to visit

A closed city or closed town is a settlement where travel or residency restrictions are applied so that specific authorization is required to visit or remain overnight. They may be sensitive military establishments or secret research installations which require much more space or freedom than is available in a conventional military base. There may also be a wider variety of permanent residents including close family members of workers or trusted traders who are not directly connected with its clandestine purposes.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Kyshtym disaster nuclear disaster

The Kyshtym Disaster was a radioactive contamination accident that occurred on 29 September 1957 at Mayak, a plutonium production site in Russia for nuclear weapons and nuclear fuel reprocessing plant of the Soviet Union. It measured as a Level 6 disaster on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), making it the third-most serious nuclear accident ever recorded, behind the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the Chernobyl disaster. The event occurred in Ozyorsk, Chelyabinsk Oblast, a closed city built around the Mayak plant, and spread hot particles over more than 20,000 square miles (52,000 km2), where at least 270,000 people lived. Since Ozyorsk/Mayak was not marked on maps, the disaster was named after Kyshtym, the nearest known town.

The strain of anthrax produced in the Military Compound 19  [ ru ] on the southern edge of Sverdlovsk was the most powerful in the Soviet arsenal ("Anthrax 836"). It had been isolated as a result of another anthrax leak accident that happened in 1953 in the city of Kirov. A leak from a bacteriological facility contaminated the city sewer system. In 1956, biologist Vladimir Sizov found a more virulent strain in rodents captured in this area. This strain was planned to be used to arm warheads for the SS-18 ICBM, which would target American cities, among other targets. [1]

Kirov, Kirov Oblast City in Kirov Oblast, Russia

Kirov is a city and the administrative center of Kirov Oblast, Russia, located on the Vyatka River. As of the 2010 Census, its population was 473,695.

Accident

The produced anthrax culture had to be dried to produce a fine powder for use as an aerosol. Large filters over the exhaust pipes were the only barriers between the anthrax dust and the outside environment. On Friday, 30 March 1979 a technician removed a clogged filter while drying machines were temporarily turned off. He left a written notice, but his supervisor did not write this down in the logbook as he was supposed to do. The supervisor of the next shift did not find anything unusual in the logbook and turned the machines on. In a few hours, someone found that the filter was missing and reinstalled it. The incident was reported to military command, but local and city officials were not immediately informed. Boris Yeltsin, a local Communist Party official at this time, helped cover up the accident. [1]

Boris Yeltsin 1st President of Russia and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was a Soviet and Russian politician and the first President of the Russian Federation, serving from 1991 to 1999. Originally a supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin emerged under the perestroika reforms as one of Gorbachev's most powerful political opponents. During the late 1980s, Yeltsin had been a candidate member of the Politburo, and in late 1987 tendered a letter of resignation in protest, making him the first ever Politburo member to resign. This act branded Yeltsin as a rebel and led to his rise in popularity as an anti-establishment figure.

All workers of a ceramic plant across the street fell ill during the next few days. Almost all of them died within a week. The death toll was at least 105,[ citation needed ] but the exact number is unknown, as all hospital records and other evidence were destroyed by the KGB, according to former Biopreparat deputy director Ken Alibek. [1]

KGB main security agency for the Soviet Union

The KGB, translated in English as Committee for State Security, was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until its break-up in 1991. As a direct successor of preceding agencies such as Cheka, NKGB, NKVD and MGB, the committee was attached to the Council of Ministers. It was the chief government agency of "union-republican jurisdiction", acting as internal security, intelligence and secret police. Similar agencies were constituted in each of the republics of the Soviet Union aside from Russia, and consisted of many ministries, state committees and state commissions.

Biopreparat was the Soviet Union's major biological warfare agency from the 1970s on. It was a vast, ostensibly civilian, network of secret laboratories, each of which focused on a different deadly bioagent. Its 30,000 employees researched and produced pathogenic weapons for use in a major war.

In 1986, Professor Matthew Meselson of Harvard University was granted approval by Soviet authorities for a four-day trip to Moscow where he interviewed several senior Soviet health officials about the outbreak. He later issued a report which agreed with the Soviet assessment that the outbreak was caused by a contaminated meat processing plant concluding the Soviets official explanation was completely "plausible and consistent with what is known from medical literature and recorded human experiences with anthrax". [2] [3]

Matthew Stanley Meselson is a geneticist and molecular biologist currently at Harvard University, known for his demonstration, with Franklin Stahl, of semi-conservative DNA replication. After completing his Ph.D under Linus Pauling at the California Institute of Technology, Meselson became a Professor at Harvard University in 1960, where he has remained, today, as Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences.

Harvard University private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.

Following an admission by President Boris Yeltsin, Sverdlovsk's Communist Party chief in 1979, of the true nature of the anthrax outbreak, Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Gumbel traveled to Sverdlovsk where he interviewed families affected by the outbreak, hospital workers, and various officials, confirming Yeltsin's comments. [4] Based on these reports a team of Western inspectors led by Meselson gained access to the region in 1992. Before they arrived they had been provided by the authorities with a list of 68 known incident victims in Sverdlovsk. By visiting and questioning in their homes surviving relatives of those who had died, the investigating researchers ascertained both where the victims had been living and where they had been during daylight hours at the time during which hospital admission records indicated a possible release into the atmosphere of anthrax dust. When the locations were plotted on maps, there was no very clear pattern defined by where the victims lived. However, there was a very precise indication from their reported locations during working hours, that all of the victims had been directly downwind at the time of the release of the spores via aerosol. [5] [6] Livestock in the area were also affected. It was revealed around this time that the accident was caused by the non-replacement of a filter on an exhaust at the facility, and though the problem was quickly rectified, it was too late to prevent a release. Had the winds been blowing in the direction of the city at that time, it could have resulted in the pathogen being spread to hundreds of thousands of people. The military facility remains closed for inspection. Meselson's original contention for many years had been that the outbreak was a natural one and that the Soviet authorities were not lying when they disclaimed having an active offensive bio-warfare program, but the information uncovered in the investigation left no room for doubt. [7]

Aftermath

Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar issued a decree to begin demilitarization of Compound 19 in 1992. However, the facility continued its work.[ citation needed ] Not a single journalist has been allowed onto the premises since 1992. About 200 soldiers with Rottweiler dogs still patrol the complex. Classified activities were moved underground, and several new laboratories have been constructed and equipped to work with highly dangerous pathogens. [8] One of their current subjects is reportedly Bacillus anthracis strain H-4. Its virulence and antibiotic resistance have been dramatically increased using genetic engineering. [8] [ not in citation given ]

See also

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References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Ken Alibek and S. Handelman. Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World – Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran it. 1999. Delta (2000) ISBN   0-385-33496-6 .
  2. Goldberg, Jeff (2001). Plague Wars: The Terrifying Reality of Biological Warfare, Macmillan Press.
  3. Meselson Matthew, [Discussions in Moscow Regarding Sverdlovsk Anthrax Outbreak](https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/BBGLPJ.pdf), 25 September 1986
  4. Goldberg, Jeff (2001). Plague Wars: The Terrifying Reality of Biological Warfare, Macmillan Press.
  5. "Interview [with Dr.] Matthew Meselson". WGBH educational foundation (Public Broadcasting Service). Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  6. Peg Brickley (8 March 2002). "Matthew S. Meselson waited quietly in the car while female associates handled the delicate work of questioning families of people who had died of anthrax. The scientist had charmed, wrangled, and nagged politicians on two continents from 1979 to 1992 for permission to probe a strange outbreak of the disease in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk 1979. But just days before Meselson boarded a plane for Moscow to conduct the interviews ..." The Scientist. LabX Media Group, Ontario. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  7. Meselson M, Guillemin J, Hugh-Jones M, et al. (November 1994). "The Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak of 1979" (PDF). Science. 266 (5188): 1202–8. doi:10.1126/science.7973702. PMID   7973702. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 May 2015.
  8. 1 2 Shoham D, Wolfson Z (2004). "The Russian biological weapons program: vanished or disappeared?". Crit. Rev. Microbiol. 30 (4): 241–61. doi:10.1080/10408410490468812. PMID   15646399.
  9. Cook, Robin (1 March 1999). Vector. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 122. ISBN   9781101203736 . Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  10. Bear, Greg (1 April 2014). Quantico. Open Road Media Mystery & Thriller. p. 146. ISBN   9781497607323 . Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  11. Preston, Richard (10 April 2007). The Cobra Event: A Novel. Random House Publishing Group. p. 292. ISBN   9780345498137 . Retrieved 31 March 2018.

Coordinates: 56°46′39″N60°35′26″E / 56.7775°N 60.590556°E / 56.7775; 60.590556