S&T, EPA are Helping Coast Guard Prepare to Clean Up Following an Anthrax Attack

The microorganism that causes anthrax, the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, has infected people and animals since ancient times. Even though anthrax is rare, it is a severe infectious disease with a death rate ranging from 25% to 80% if medical treatment is not sought early. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anthrax is one of the most likely agents to be used in a biological attack, because the anthrax bacteria exist in the natural environment, can be easily disguised in powders, sprays, food or water, and have been previously used as a biological warfare agent.

Anthrax spores are difficult to kill, as they can remain viable in the environment for decades. When the spores are inhaled by humans or animals, the bacteria awaken and reproduce to a disastrous effect.

If terrorists use anthrax as a bioagent on a ship or in a harbor, the U.S. Coast Guard must decontaminate the impacted area as quickly as possible to reduce the threat to personnel and civilians, while remaining ready to do its mission. The project Analysis for Coastal Operational Resiliency (AnCOR) aims to find the best, safest methods to decontaminate Coast Guard bases, stations, and vessels. The project is a partnership of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Coast Guard. AnCOR, which started in 2018, focuses on addressing the wide-area release of a biological agent such as anthrax and uses non-pathogenic anthrax-like spores or anthrax surrogates in its studies and field demonstrations.

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