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Years After Anthrax Attacks, Bioterrorism Threat Still Looms

As the probe into the 2001 anthrax attacks comes to a close, the country still faces challenges preventing and responding to bioterrorism attacks. Experts assess U.S. preparedness.

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    The U.S. government effectively closed its investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks yesterday, when federal prosecutors declared that Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide last week, was the sole perpetrator.


    We have a flask that's effectively the murder weapon from which those spores were taken that was controlled by Dr. Ivins. The anthrax in that flask was created by Dr. Ivins.


    The anthrax mailings killed five people, sickened 17 others, and rattled a nation already on edge after the 9/11 attacks.


    I don't know. It's hard to avoid things, because you don't know what — you know, do you not eat food? Do you not open your mail? I mean, not open our bills and, you know, and send them back? What do you do?


    Tommy Thompson was then secretary of health and human services.

    FORMER GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON (R), Wisconsin: I know some critics are charging that our public health system is not prepared to respond to a major bioterrorism attack.


    The administration and Congress quickly approved spending tens of billions of dollars.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: It's important that we confront these real threats to our country and prepare for future emergencies. Protecting our citizens against bioterrorism is an urgent duty of American — American governments.


    Readiness drills were held in communities and hospitals around the country.


    Were you on the Metro yesterday when the symptoms happened?


    Yes, that's how I get home from work.


    Chemical and biological sensors were installed in major cities, including Washington, D.C.'s, Metro system.

  • TOM WOLSKO, Argonne National Laboratory:

    Once we know or can predict where the plume will go in a certain time frame, then we can take corrective actions in the subway systems to either shut down the trains, close ventilation systems.


    The government also began programs for new vaccines and stockpiling of drugs. In 2003, President Bush announced Project BioShield.


    I have proposed that our government spend nearly $6 billion over the next 10 years to speed the research, production, and availability of effective vaccines and treatments against smallpox and anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola plague and other possible agents of bioterror.


    Since the anthrax attacks, the federal government has spent roughly $50 billion to protect against bioterror threats.

    But with this week's determination by the government that the perpetrator was a longtime Army scientist, the case is raising questions anew about the source of any threats and whether the country is, in fact, better prepared than it was in 2001.

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