Protection against a threat or use of weapons of mass destruction, hereinafter referred to as WMD, is a complex of organizational, engineering, medicinal, and other measures taken to forestall or reduce the damaging and other untoward effects of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons on the population and its natural habitat, i.e. the environment. The overarching aim of these measures is to preserve life, health, fighting capability, and working capacity of the Armed Forces and regular people. Moreover, they are designed to save civil and military facilities from obliteration as well as to conserve natural objects and animal populations. There is a multitude of different armaments within the umbrella term “WMD”. Basically, this term can be applied to those means of warfare that are used to extirpate people and animals wholesale, utterly, and irrevocably destruct or render incapable military facilities as well as to devastate or contaminate material values, crops, and wildlife vegetation (Cromartie, 2009).
WMD run the gamut from nuclear to chemical and biological (bacteriological) groups of weapons, each having specific damaging effect. At the same time, all kinds of WMD have psychotropic action, which is responsible for the development of severe neuroses and psychic disorders in humans. This paper describes pestilential effects that the application and accidental use of WMD have on human health. Moreover, significant attention is given to the issue of measures and techniques contrived by specialized agencies to protect American people against the fallout from nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks and incidents as well as to alleviate consequences of these incidents. Nowadays, any serious scientist does not dare ignore ecology or accord it the bar sinister. Ecologists in conjunction with other scientists work hard on the task to find a way to mitigate the consequences of WMD application. Bearing in mind the devastation that would result for humanity by a nuclear war or by the use of other kinds of WMD, it is important to create a viable system of international regulations and safeguards that would restrain nation-states in general and rogue states in particular from using WMD. On a domestic level, even more rigorous measures are required. The bottom line is that since any ill-considered or inadvertent detonation or incident involving WMD would take a heavy human toll, only a total prohibition or thorough state policy could save people from the dangers of WMD.
Public Health Implications
Nuclear weapons are the most powerful and pernicious type of WMD. This kind of weapon can wreck havoc on a large number of living creatures and raze to the ground buildings on the vast terrains in a matter of minutes (Prasad, 2003). Massive use of nuclear weapons is linked with catastrophic consequences for all human kind. This induces the US to consider an unflinching campaign for its prohibition. Since the times of the Cold War, American citizens have been inoculated with the belief that everyone must have a first-hand knowledge of how to take precautions against WMD. It is clear why the White House inculcated these convictions in its nationals as Americans were living under the threat of nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union.
Damaging Effects of Nuclear Weapons
In order for people to fully understand what they are dealing with, it is imperative that they should have at least a nodding acquaintance with the basic properties and effects of an atomic bomb. The main effects of nuclear bomb explosion are the shock wave, thermal radiation, ionizing radiation, and radioactive contamination of a territory by the products of nuclear explosion (Prasad, 2003). Nuclear devices can be detonated in the air, on the surface, under the ground, and under water. In case of an air explosion (height less than 30 kilometers above sea level), the shock wave accounts for about 50% of the energy, while thermal and ionizing radiation for 35% and 15% respectively (Stewart, 2006). With an increase of height of the explosion and a simultaneous decrease of the density of the atmosphere, the amount of energy used for light emission increases, while that used for the shock wave diminishes exponentially. High-altitude nuclear explosion (more than 30 kilometers above the sea level) creates an increased ionization of the upper atmosphere. Both surface and undeground detonations entail a significant emission of energy contained in the shock wave.
Shockwave-induced lesions can be subdivided into primary, secondary, and tertiary (Prasad, 2003). Primary lesions are caused by a direct effects of the shock wave. Excess pressure within the range of 14-28 kPa usually causes minor injuries e.g. damaged eardrums (Prasad, 2003). Mechanical injuries of different severity occur when excess pressure is higher. The higher the pressure, the bigger the chance of getting a mental trauma. The injured people are often diagnosed with lung damages, which imply breaks of the interalveolar walls and blood vessels mainly on the surface of the lungs (Cromartie, 2009). Organs of the abdominal cavity, such as mucosa, muscular wall of the hollow organs, and capsules of the parenchymal organs, tear slightly too.
Secondary lesions include wounds that people obtain from an explosion of secondary projectiles (fragments of destroyed buildings, broken glass etc.). The nature and severity of these injuries depend on many factors. At high kinetic energy, even small fragments can cause penetrating injuries (Prasad, 2003).
Tertiary injuries come into play when people are cast away by the shock wave, causing them to hit the ground and surrounding objects. If the situation unfolds this way, victims usually end up having a couple of fractures at best. The accompanying seismological waves entail annihilation of the surface, underground facilities, and communications, which in its turn results in the emergence of various mechanical, thermal, and combined injuries in humans.
Optical emission of a nuclear explosion is yet another case. In the broad sense, it means electromagnetic radiation of the optical range, which includes ultraviolet, visible, and infrared regions of the spectrum (Stewart, 2006). Its duration may vary from few microseconds when low-value nuclear weapons are detonated to a couple of seconds when high-grade atomic bombs are used. This optical emission causes burns to the skin and mucous membranes. Burns occurring in the hotbed of a nuclear explosion can be subdivided into primary (induced by the very optical emission) and secondary (induced by ignited clothes, flames etc.). Primary burns that are obtained from an explosions of non-powerful ammunitions are located on the parts of the body that face the direction of the blast. Explosions of powerful ordnance that are accompanied by a lengthy glow of the fireball result in thermal injuries that do not differ from secondary burns obtained in regular situations (Prasad, 2003). Optical emission causes specific eye lesions, namely chorioretinal burns that lead to irrevocable disruption of visual function and temporary blindness.
Severity of radiation injury is determined by the received dose of ionizing radiation. One way to quickly determine whether the condition of an injured person is critical is to find out if the body was uniformly exposed to radiation. Exposition can be considered uniform when penetrating optical emissions affect the entire body, and the difference between individual doses received by small areas of the body is insignificant. Uneven exposure is possible when separate parts of the body are protected by the elements of fortification facilities, large machinery etc. However, not all organs are affected by radiation equally, which has a bearing on the clinical course of radiation poisoning. For example, if a total amount of irradiation mainly affects the head, this may cause neurologic abnormalities, while a predominant exposure of the abdomen leads to the development of segmental radiation colitis, enteritis etc. (Stewart & Nixon, 2003). Acute radiation syndrome caused by the exposure to predominantly neutron-composed irradiation is characterized by a pronounced initial reaction, short latent period, and frequent gastrointestinal disorders at the peak of the disease. In addition, neutrons adversely affect genetic apparatus of somatic and germ cells, which raises the risk of long-term radiological consequences in the exposed individuals and their offspring (Stewart & Nixon, 2003).
Untoward Effects of Chemical Weapons on Human Health
When the organism is exposed to two or more effects of nuclear explosion simultaneously, combined lesions occur. Clinical signs of radiation poisoning and corresponding mechanical and thermal trauma accompany them. As a result of summing and assuming the potential pathological changes in patients with such lesions, they experience increased level of shock, exacerbated post-radiation pancytopenia as well as depression of the immune system (Prasad, 2003). Moreover, hemorrhagic and infectious complications become more common and severe, while the speed of post-traumatic tissue regeneration slows down.
The effect of a chemical weapon depends on the use of toxic substances or chemical warfare agents (CWA), i.e. highly hazardous chemicals that can cause severe disorders in humans and animals or result in temporary loss of combat effectiveness and ability to work. Chemical weapons were first used by Germany in April 1915 during the First World War (Cromartie, 2009). Under the influence of the international community, the use of chemical weapons was banned by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. However, some states used them in spite of international law. The US is fighting for prohibition and elimination of chemical weapons.
Depending on the characteristics of a hazardous effect on the body and clinical manifestations of intoxication, all CWAs are divided into six groups: nerve agents (sarin, soman etc.), blood gases (hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride), blister agents (mustard, nitrogen mustard gas, and lewisite), choking agents (phosgene, difosgen etc.), psychological agents (LSD, BZ etc.), and irritating agents (adamsite, chloroacetophenone etc.). Depending on the nature of possible lesions, CWAs are divided in two categories, namely lethal (nerve, blister, choking, and blood agents) and temporarily incapacitating (psychochemicals and irritants) CWAs. Some toxic substances have damaging effects that last for several hours or even days (soman, mustard gas, lewisite), while other short-effect agents endure only for a few minutes (hydrocyanic acid, phosgene). The signs indicating that an enemy has used chemical weapons range from weak sounds of exploding munitions and unbelievably dark contrails stretching after the aircraft to oily spots on the leaves, soil, and buildings (Cromartie, 2009). Meanwhile, people can experience irritation of the nasopharynx and eyes, pupillary constriction, and a heavy feeling in the chest.
Nerve agents affect the nervous system of a person through his/her respiratory apparatus. However, they may also enter the body through the skin and by ingestion in the gastrointestinal tract along with food and water. During the summer, they persist for a single day, while in winter, this effect can last for weeks or even months (Stewart, 2006). These are the most dangerous CWAs that have a potential to decimate a big number of people. The signs of damage range from drooling, constriction of the pupils, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting to convulsions and palsy.
Blister agents have multilateral damaging effects. In the vaporous state, they damage skin and eyes. Inhalation would result in disruption of airways and lungs, while ingestion together with food or water leads to a malfunction of digestive organs (Prasad, 2003). The presence of a latent period of action is a distinctive feature of mustard gas because the effect is not detected immediately, but after a couple of hours. The signs of damage are redness of the skin and formation of small bubbles, which rapidly coalesce into large ones and burst in two or three days transforming into hard-healing ulcers later (Prasad, 2003). Eyes are also extremely susceptible to mustard gas. In case the drops or spray come into contact with eyes, they start itching badly in a matter of minutes. The agent rapidly percolates through the eyes, which often results in a complete loss of vision. By and large, this harmful agent causes general poisoning of the body, which is manifested in fever and malaise.
Chocking agents, also referred to as suffocants, impact people’s respiratory apparatus. The signs of damage vary from sweet and unpleasant taste in the mouth, cough, and dizziness to general debility. These symptoms cease after an exposed person abandons the nidus of contagion. Unaware of the exposure, the affected person feels better in few hours. During the period of latent exposure, edema of the lungs develops sometimes (Prasad, 2003). This condition often degenerates into cough with copious sputum, headaches, fever, shortness of breath, and palpitations (Prasad, 2003). Death usually occurs on the second or third day. If this critical period passes, condition of the victim gradually improves, and after two weeks they may fully recover.
Blood agents affect humans only by the means of inhaling air contaminated with them, which means they are uncapable of penetrating the organism through the skin. The symptoms of poisoning are a metallic taste in the mouth, throat irritation, dizziness, fatigue, lassitude, nausea, sudden convulsions, paralysis (Prasad, 2003). It is enough to wear a gas mask for people to protect themselves against blood agents.
Just like the majority of previous agents, irritants cause severe burning and pain in the mouth, throat and eyes, coughing, shortness of breath etc. In comparison to them all, psychological agents have a distinctively deleterious effect on the central nervous system and cause mental (hallucinations, anxiety, depression) or physical (blindness, deafness) disorders. It is not difficult to determine that the poisoning has taken place because the pupils become dilated, mouth dries out, heart palpitates, head reels, muscles weaken, and vertigo strikes without a particular reason (Prasad, 2003). These symptoms are accompanied by detraction, weakening of memory, and lowered reaction to external stimuli. The exposed person becomes disoriented, and they experience either psychomotor agitation or hallucinations. Contact with an outside world is lost, which in its turn throws a spanner into the works of person’s cerebrum. As a result, they are unable to distinguish reality from illusions created by their mind. The worse, and the most likely, outcome of this impairment of person’s consciousness is a severe congenital mental disability with a partial or complete loss of memory (Prasad, 2003).
The area within the confines of which the application of chemical weapons has injured the highest number of people and farm animals is called an epicenter of chemical attack. Its dimensions depend on the scope and method of application of CWA as well as its type, weather conditions, terrain, and other factors. Persistent nerve agents that can be disseminated with the help of wind are the most dangerous (Stewart & Nixon, 2003). Therefore, people and animals can be affected by them not only in the area where chemical bombs containing nerve agents exploded, but also far beyond. Luckily enough, the stronger the wind, the shorter the duration of harmful effects of CWAs.
Deleterious Effects of Biological Weapons
Just like other WMD, biological weapons influence people, farm animals, and plants. Their action is based on the use of pathogenic properties of microorganisms (bacteria, rickettsia, molds as well as toxins produced by certain bacteria). Biological weapons are capable to induce large-scale epidemics among humans and animals due to their durability and a long incubation period (Null, 2003). Microbes and toxins are difficult to detect in the environment since they can penetrate through the walls into shelters and premises and infect people there. The signs helping to figure out that biological weapons have been used include sounds of exploded shells and bombs unusual to conventional ammunition, appearance of droplets of liquid or pulverulent substances on the ground, unusual cluster of insects and mites at the sites of explosion, mass diseases among humans and animals (Cromartie, 2009). Furthermore, the use of biological agents can be proved by laboratory tests.
A variety of pathogens of infectious diseases can be used as a hazardous biological weapon, namely those of plague, anthrax, brucellosis, glanders, tularemia, cholera, yellow fever, and other types of fever, vernal and estival encephalitis, typhus and typhoid fever, influenza, malaria, dysentery, smallpox etc. (Null, 2003). For the purpose of slaying animals, along with anthrax and glanders, viruses of foot-and-mouth disease, rinderpest, and classical swine fever may be utilized along the viruses of anthrax and glanders. In order to destroy the crops, it is efficient to resort to pathogens of the stem rust of cereals, tomato scabs, potato blights, late wilt of corn, and other crops (Null, 2003). Moreover, hostile states sometimes fall back on the use of insects and agricultural pests as well as phytotoxicants, defoliants, herbicides, and other chemicals.
Infection of humans and animals occurs through inhalation of contaminated air, ingress of germs or toxins into mucosa and injured skin, ingestion of contaminated food and water, bites of infected insects and mites, contact with contaminated objects, wounds caused by splinters of a shell filled with biological agents, and through direct contact with sick people and animals (Null, 2003). A plethora of diseases is quickly communicated from the sick to healthy, causing epidemics of plague, cholera, typhoid, influenza, etc.
Emergency Planning and Response Measures
Response Measures in Case of Nuclear-related Incidents or Attacks
A positive outcome of fighting the consequences of any attack or incident involving the use of WMD primarily depends on the affected people themselves. However, the role of state authorities is also crucial as they have to coordinate rescue, evacuation, and relief measures. It is also important for them to inform people about how to behave in case of such attack or incident. In order to increase resistance to ionizing radiation, it is recommended to use cystamine, which is available in a first-aid kit. The drug is taken 30 minutes prior to a suspected exposure (Prasad, 2003). To prevent beta-burns of the skin and ingress of hazardous substances into the body, a partial or complete sanitization of the people as well as decontamination of their clothes should be carried out during the stage of medical evacuation. In the epicenter of an attack, the affected people are provided with first medical aid, which aims to eliminate the damaging factors and address the causes of life-threatening condition like asphyxiation, bleeding, and shock. For this purpose, it is necessary to extinguish the burning apparel and retrieve the victims from under the rubble. In order to stop external hemorrhage, lacerated limbs are flexed and covered with a pressing bandage or tourniquet (Cromartie, 2009). With the aim to prevent the development of shock, painkillers are administered to people, and a sealing bandage is applied to an open pneumothorax. Furthermore, the affected person must be promptly carried to a safe place and provided with paraphernalia associated with warming-up. In case a person shows symptoms of primary reaction to radiation, such as nausea, it is advised to use a special drug called perphenazine. (Prasad, 2003).
Emergency Planning Against the use of Chemical Weapons
When a person is affected by CWAs, they must be quickly moved out from the epicenter of an attack and provided immediate medical help in order to eliminate the initial signs of injury and prevent their development. Then, respirator-clad victims of an attack must take antidotes and inhale an anti-smoke mixture if their upper airways have been injured (Stewart & Nixon, 2003). In the same way, the exposed skin and adjoining clothes must be treated with the content of an individual anti-gas package. Outside the zone of contamination, eyes of an affected person must be washed with a big amount of water, the mouth must be rinsed, and the throat must be washed out. First medical assistance is aimed at combating threatening disorders (asphyxiation, convulsions, collapse etc.). It includes a repeated administration of antidotes to fight off recurrent toxicity, artificial ventilation with portable devices to get rid of respiratory impairment, oxygen inhalation to stop severe hypoxia, anti-smoke inhalations to stimulate the upper airways, tubeless gastric lavage to alleviate pains induced by CWAs inside the body, and injection of cardiovascular drugs to repel a pronounced tachycardia etc. (Prasad, 2003). The first medical aid is aimed at eliminating the symptoms of intoxication (acute respiratory failure, toxic pulmonary edema, convulsions), relieving the victim of other symptoms, and preparing them for further evacuation.
Biological Weapons and Reply Measures
Cities and other human settlements subjected to direct effects of biological agents that induce the spread of infectious diseases are referred to as an epicenter of a biological attack. Its boundaries are determined with a help of biological prospecting, laboratory tests of samples from the surroundings as well as by detecting exposed people. In order to prevent further dissemination of epidemics, it is essential that armed guards should be stationed on the perimeter of an epicenter. It is also important to prohibit any entry or exit routes, and remove property that do not harbor disease-causing organisms (Stewart & Nixon, 2003). The main means of protection against biological weapons include vaccines, serums, antibiotics, and other substances used for emergency prevention of contagious diseases. Chemical substances can be used to decontaminate pathogens of infectious diseases. Should the suspicion about the use of biological weapons arise, people must put on gas masks immediately and report an incident to the nearest headquarters of civil defense. To prevent the spread of contagious diseases among the population, a urgent measures like extra prophylaxis, observation and quarantine, sanitary treatment of the population, and decontamination of the infected objects is required. Mites, insects, and rats may be exterminated too if the need arises.
In conclusion, the best way to mitigate consequences of an incident or attack involving the use of WMD is to prevent them with the outcome depending heavily on state policies. The US should make substantial effort to prevent internal menaces in the first place. Even though North Korea threatened to rain America with nuclear warheads a year ago, it has slunk back into its cave already. Likewise, minatory Syrian regime promised it will use chemical weapons against the US if the latter intervenes in the civil war ravaging in this country. However, these are just precarious words.