Library Index » Science Encyclopedia » Toxins in Everyday Life - Why Are Toxins Toxic?, Chemical Toxins, Fluoride, Asbestos, Radiation, Tobacco, Indoor Air Toxins

Toxins in Everyday Life - Chemical And Biological Weapons

anthrax war gulf fda

More and more the world faces threats from toxins intentionally and maliciously introduced into the environment with the sole purpose of harming people. The anthrax letters that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have brought new focus to the dangers of toxins that can be used for chemical and biological weapons. While some of these toxins can be identified, such as anthrax, others remain of mysterious origin, making it much more difficult to treat those who are affected.


Anthrax is a disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax is found in nature mostly in agricultural areas, where it is associated with livestock, such as cattle, sheep, and goats. The spores can survive in soils for many years. Human exposure to anthrax is usually through infected animals or animal products, such as meat, hides, wool, or leather. Anthrax can enter the body either through inhalation, via the skin (cutaneous), or ingestion. Inhaled anthrax is the most lethal. Anthrax is not contagious and is treatable by antibiotics if detected early enough in the disease.

Between 1955 and 1999 there were only 236 reported cases of anthrax in the United States, most of them cutaneous. An inhalation case of anthrax had not occurred since 1976, when a man working with infected imported yarns died of the disease. In October and November 2001 there were ten confirmed cases of inhalation anthrax in Florida, New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. All resulted from intentional release of the spores through mailed letters or packages. Five of those infected died.

Gulf War Syndrome

Many veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War returned with physical complaints that have baffled medical experts. "Gulf War syndrome" is the name given to an array of symptoms—fatigue, skin rashes, memory loss, and headaches—experienced by men and women who served in the war. Some sources have claimed these conditions may have resulted from exposure to poison gas that was inadvertently released when American troops destroyed caches of the gas following the actual conflict, others contend the troops were heavily exposed to fumes of burning oil during the war, while still others suggest that the immunizations given to the soldiers may have caused such responses.

Food products approved for irradiation, August 21, 1963–July 21, 2000

Food product Agency and approval date Purpose for irradiation Maximum permitted dosage (kiloGray)
Wheat and wheat powder FDA -August 21,1963 Insect deinfestation 0.20 to 0.50
White potatoes FDA -July 8, 1964 Inhibit sprout development 0.05 to 0.151
Spices and dry vegetables FDA -July 5, 1983 Microbial disinfection and insect deinfestation2 10.0
Dry or dehydrated enzyme preparations FDA -June 10, 1985 Microbial disinfection 10.0
Pork carcasses or fresh nonheated processed cuts FDA -July 22, 1985 Control Trichinella spiralis 0.30 to 1.00
Fresh foods FDA -April 18, 1986 Delay maturation 1.0
Dry or dehydrated aromatic vegetable substances3 FDA -April 18, 1986 Microbial disinfection 30.0
Fresh, frozen uncooked FDA -May 2, 1990 Control foodborne 3.0
poultry USDA -October 21, 1992 pathogens
Refrigerated and frozen FDA -December 3, 1997 Control foodborne 4.5 (refrigerated)
uncooked beef, lamb, goat, and pork USDA -February 22, 2000 pathogens and extend shelf life 7.0 (frozen)
Fresh shell eggs FDA -July 21, 2000 Control salmonella 3.0
1Maximum dose increased from 0.10 to 0.15 on November 9, 1965.
2Insect deinfestation approved June 1984.
3Refers to substances used as ingredients for flavoring or aroma (e.g., culinary herbs, seeds, spices, and vegetable seasonings). Includes turmeric and paprika when used as color additives.
SOURCE: "Appendix III. Food Products Approved for Irradiation in the United States," in Food Irradiation: Available Research Indicates that Benefits Outweigh Risks: Report to Congressional Requesters, (GAO/RCED-00-217), U.S. General Accounting Office, Washington, DC, August 2000

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers Gulf War veterans eligibility for medical treatment. More than 67,000 service members have responded to the VA's Gulf War Registry program, which offers physical examinations to all eligible service members. Most veterans are diagnosed and treated; for some, however, symptoms have been chronic. Data from about 10,000 claimants' health exams found unexplained illness in approximately 12 percent of the cases. If a veteran's symptoms defy diagnosis, the veteran can be referred to one of the nation's four Gulf War Referral Centers for treatment.

In 1995 the federal government began devoting $115 million for 121 research projects related to Gulf War illnesses. The VA has provided compensation payments to chronically disabled Gulf War veterans with undiagnosed illnesses. (A disability is considered chronic if it lasts more than six months.)

The federal response to the health consequences of Gulf War service is led by the Persian Gulf Veterans Coordinating Board, composed of the VA and the U.S. Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. The Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses was formed by President Bill Clinton in 1995. In 1999 he signed into law the Veterans Millennium Health Care and Benefits Act (PL 106-117), which extended medical care to veterans, their spouses, and their children until December 31, 2003.

[back] Toxins in Everyday Life - Toxins In Food

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or