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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: The Use of Chronic Toxicants by Terrorists to Disrupt the Food Supply

Author
item Riley, Ronald

Submitted to: Life Sciences Symposium
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: March 2, 2002
Publication Date: June 1, 2002
Citation: RILEY, R.T. 2002. THE USE OF CHRONIC TOXICANTS BY TERRORISTS TO DISRUPT THE FOOD SUPPLY. PROCEEDINGS INTERNATIONAL LIFE SCIENCES INSTITUTE SYMPOSIUM. CD-ROM. Washington, DC.

Interpretive Summary: The purpose of this presentation is to address the question: "Could chronic toxicants be used to create a terrorism incident?" If so, what may happen and what can be done to minimize the impact. Chronic toxicants are "chemicals that are known or suspected to cause disease through mechanisms that require low level and long-term exposure." This is in contrast to acute toxicants, which are usually used at high dosages, or are extremely poisonous, and the toxic effects are seen very quickly. For chronic toxicants the food safety impact is presumably an increased risk of chronic disease. There are political impacts as well. The probability that a terrorist could cause increased risk of chronic disease through intentional contamination of foods with toxic chemicals that are known to cause chronic diseases is very low. However, intentional contamination, even with non-toxic doses and short-term exposure could be very disruptive to the food supply. The amount of material that would be required to create an incident could be very small due to the public's low tolerance for uncontrollable and unobservable risks. The choice of which product to contaminate would depend on the chemical, physical, and organoleptic properties of the food and the toxicant.

Technical Abstract: The purpose of this presentation is to address the question: "Could chronic toxicants be used to create a terrorism incident?" If so, what may happen and what can be done to minimize the impact. Chronic toxicants are "chemicals that are known or suspected to cause disease through mechanisms that require low level and long-term exposure." This is in contrast to acute toxicants, which are usually used at high dosages, or are extremely poisonous, and the toxic effects are seen very quickly. For chronic toxicants the food safety impact is presumably an increased risk of chronic disease. There are political impacts as well. The probability that a terrorist could cause increased risk of chronic disease through intentional contamination of foods with toxic chemicals that are known to cause chronic diseases is very low. However, intentional contamination, even with non-toxic doses and short-term exposure could be very disruptive to the food supply. The amount of material that would be required to create an incident could be very small due to the public's low tolerance for uncontrollable and unobservable risks. The choice of which product to contaminate would depend on the chemical, physical, and organoleptic properties of the food and the toxicant.

Last Modified: 9/21/2014
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