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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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 19on 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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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 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.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. 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.
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. One of their current subjects is reportedly Bacillus anthracis strain H-4. Its virulence and antibiotic resistance have been dramatically increased using genetic engineering. [ not in citation given ]
Biological warfare (BW)—also known as germ warfare—is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi with the intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons are living organisms or replicating entities that reproduce or replicate within their host victims. Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of biological weapon. This type of warfare is distinct from nuclear warfare and chemical warfare, which together with biological warfare make up NBC, the military initialism for nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). None of these are considered conventional weapons, which are deployed primarily for their explosive, kinetic, or incendiary potential.
Biodefense refers to measures to restore biosecurity to a group of organisms who are, or may be, subject to biological threats or infectious diseases. Biodefense is frequently discussed in the context of biowar or bioterrorism, and is generally considered a military or emergency response term.
According to the Federation of American Scientists, an organization that assesses nuclear weapon stockpiles, as of 2018, the Russian Federation possesses 7,850 total nuclear warheads, of which 1,600 are strategically operational. This is in large part due to the special bomber counting rules allowed by the New START treaty, which counts each strategic nuclear bomber as one warhead irrespective of the number of warheads—gravity bombs and/or cruise missiles carried by the aircraft. The figures are, by necessity, only estimates because "the exact number of nuclear weapons in each country's possession is a closely held national secret." In addition to nuclear weapons, Russia declared an arsenal of 39,967 tons of chemical weapons in 1997. The Soviet Union ratified the Geneva Protocol on April 5, 1928 with reservations. The reservations were dropped on January 18, 2001. Russia is also party to the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Soviet Union had a peak stockpile of 45,000 nuclear warheads in 1986. It is estimated that from 1949 to 1991 the Soviet Union produced approximately 55,000 nuclear warheads.
Biohazard, subtitled The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World - Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It, is the title of a 1999 book by former Soviet biological warfare researcher Ken Alibek that purports to expose the former Soviet Union's extensive covert biological weapons program.
Colonel Kanatzhan "Kanat" Alibekov – known as Kenneth "Ken" Alibek since 1992 – is a former Soviet physician, microbiologist, and biological warfare (BW) expert. He rose rapidly in the ranks of the Soviet Army to become the First Deputy Director of Biopreparat, where he oversaw a vast program of BW facilities.
Yellow rain was the subject of a 1981 political incident in which the United States Secretary of State Alexander Haig accused the Soviet Union of supplying T-2 mycotoxin to the Communist states in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia for use in counterinsurgency warfare. Refugees described many different forms of attacks, including a sticky yellow liquid falling from planes or helicopters, which was dubbed "yellow rain". The U.S. government alleged that over ten thousand people had been killed in attacks using these chemical weapons.
Vozrozhdeniya Island was an island in the Aral Sea. The former island's territory is split between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In 1954, the Soviet Union constructed a biological weapons test site called Aralsk-7 there and on the neighboring Komsomolskiy Island.
The United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases is the U.S Army's main institution and facility for defensive research into countermeasures against biological warfare. It is located on Fort Detrick, Maryland and is a subordinate lab of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC), headquartered on the same installation.
Jeanne Harley Guillemin is a medical anthropologist and author, who for 25 years was a Professor of Sociology at Boston College and for the last ten years, a senior fellow in the Security Studies Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is an authority on biological weapons and has published four books on the topic.
The United States biological weapons program began in 1943 and was terminated in 1969. It was replaced by the United States biological defense program.
The Soviet Union began a biological weapons program in the 1920s. During World War II, Joseph Stalin was forced to move his biological warfare (BW) operations out of the path of advancing German forces and may have used tularemia against German troops in 1942 near Stalingrad.
Saddam Hussein (1937–2006) initiated an extensive biological weapons (BW) program in Iraq in the early 1980s, in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) of 1972. Details of the BW program—along with a chemical weapons program—surfaced only in the wake of the Gulf War (1990–91) following investigations conducted by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) which had been charged with the post-war disarmament of Saddam's Iraq. By the end of the war, program scientists had investigated the BW potential of five bacterial strains, one fungal strain, five types of virus, and four toxins. Of these, three—anthrax, botulinum and aflatoxin—had proceeded to weaponization for deployment. Because of the UN disarmament program that followed the war, more is known today about the once-secret bioweapons program in Iraq than that of any other nation.
The Vigo Ordnance Plant, also known as the Vigo Chemical Plant or simply Vigo Plant, was a United States Army facility built in 1942 to produce conventional weapons. In 1944 it was converted to produce biological agents for the U.S. bio-weapons program. The plant never produced any bio-weapons before the end of World War II but did produce 8000 pounds of an anthrax simulant. The plant was transferred to Pfizer after the war; the company operated it until announcing its closure in 2008.
The Stepnogorsk Scientific and Technical Institute for Microbiology, also known as the Scientific Experimental and Production Base, was one of the premier biological warfare facilities operated by the Soviet Union. It was the only Biopreparat facility to be built outside of Russia proper, and one of the few ever visited officially by Western experts. Currently, the site conducts civilian biological research, overseen by director Vladimir Bugreyev. The United States Department of State and the U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation now provide significant funds supporting civilian research at Stepnogorsk.
Various types of biological warfare (BW) have been practiced repeatedly throughout history. This has included the use of biological agents as well as the biotoxins, including venoms, derived from them.
Biological warfare (BW) — also known as bacteriological warfare, or germ warfare — has had a presence in popular culture for over 100 years. Public interest in it became intense during the Cold War, especially the 1960s and ‘70s, and continues unabated. This article comprises a list of popular culture works referencing BW or bio-terrorism, but not those pertaining to natural, or unintentional, epidemics.