Sverdlovsk anthrax leak


Sverdlovsk anthrax leak

The Sverdlovsk anthrax leak is an incident when spores of anthrax were accidentally released from a military facility in the city of Sverdlovsk (formerly, and now again, Yekaterinburg) 900 miles east of Moscow on April 2, 1979. This accident is sometimes called "biological Chernobyl" . The ensuing outbreak of the disease resulted in approximately 100 deaths, although the exact number of victims remains unknown. The cause of the outbreak had for years been denied by the Soviet Union, which blamed the deaths on intestinal exposure due to the consumption of tainted meat from the area, and subcutaneous exposure due to butchers handling the tainted meat. All medical records of the victims had been removed in order to avoid revelations of serious violations of the Biological Weapons Convention.

Background

The closed city of Sverdlovsk had been a major production center of the Soviet military-industrial complex since World War II. It produced tanks, nuclear rockets and other armaments. A major nuclear accident happened in this region in 1958, when a military reactor was damaged, resulting in the spread of radioactive dust over a thousand square kilometers. The biological weapons facility in Sverdlovsk was built after World War II, using documentation captured in Manchuria from the Japanese germ warfare program Ken Alibek and S. Handelman. "." 1999. Delta (2000) ISBN 0-385-33496-6 [http://www.amazon.com/dp/0385334966/] . ]

The strain of anthrax produced in Military Compound 19 near Sverdlovsk was the most powerful in the Soviet arsenal ("Anthrax 836"). It had been isolated as a result of another anthrax leak accident that happened in 1953 in the city of Kirov. A leak from a bacteriological facility contaminated the city sewer system. In 1956, biologist Vladimir Sizov found a more virulent strain in rodents captured in this area. This strain was planned to be used to arm warheads for the SS-18 ICBM, which would target Western cities.

The accident

The produced anthrax culture had to be dried to produce a fine powder for use as an aerosol. Large filters over the exhaust pipes were the only barriers between the anthrax dust and the outside environment. On the last Friday of March 1979, a technician removed a clogged filter while drying machines were temporarily turned off. He left a written notice, but did not write this down in the logbook as he was supposed to do. The supervisor of the next shift did not find anything unusual in the logbook, and turned the machines on. In a few hours, someone found that the filter was missing and reinstalled it. The incident was reported to military command, but local and city officials were not immediately informed. Boris Yeltsin, a local Communist Party boss at this time, was denied access to the secret facility .

All workers of a ceramic plant across the street fell ill during the next few days. Almost all of them died in a week. The death toll was at least 105, but the exact number is unknown as all hospital records and other evidence were destroyed by the KGB, according to former Biopreparat deputy director Ken Alibek .

The investigation

In the 1980s, there was vigorous international debate and speculation as to whether the outbreak was natural or an accidental exposure. If accidental, there was discussion of whether it represented violation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. A number of small investigations launched by Russian scientists in the years immediately following the dissolution of the Soviet Union re-opened the case in a number of newspaper articles.

A team of Western inspectors lead by Professor Matthew Meselson of Harvard finally gained access to the region in 1992, and determined that all of the victims had been living directly downwind at the time of the release of the spores via aerosol. Livestock in the area were also affected. It was revealed around this time that the accident was caused by the non-replacement of a filter on an exhaust at the facility, and though the problem was quickly rectified it was too late to prevent a release. Had the winds been blowing in the direction of the city at that time, it could have resulted in the pathogen being spread to hundreds of thousands of people. The military facility remains closed to inspection. Professor Meselson's original contention for many years had been that the outbreak was a natural one and that the Soviet authorities were not lying when they disclaimed having an active offensive bio-warfare program, but the information uncovered in the investigation left no room for doubt. [ Meselson, M.J., J. Guillemin, M. Hugh-Jones, et al (1994), [http://www.anthrax.osd.mil/documents/library/Sverdlovsk.pdf "The Sverdlovsk Anthrax Outbreak of 1979"] (pdf), "Science", 266, no. 5188:1202-8.] Meselson's wife, Jeanne Guillemin (who had participated in the investigation), detailed the events in a 1999 book. [cite book | author = Guillemin, Jeanne| title = "Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak", Berkeley, University of California Press| year = 1999]

Aftermath

Russian Prime Minister Egor Gaidar issued a decree to begin demilitarization of Compound 19 in 1992. However, the facility continued its work. Not a single journalist has been allowed onto the premises since 1992. About 200 soldiers with Rottweiler dogs still patrol the complex. Classified activities were moved underground, and several new laboratories have been constructed and equipped to work with highly dangerous pathogens. [http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/tandf/bmcb/2004/00000030/00000004/art00002 The Russian Biological Weapons Program: Vanished or Disappeared?] by Dany Shoham and Ze'ev Wolfson, "Critical Reviews in Microbiology", Volume 30, Number 4, October-December 2004, pp. 241-261. ] One of their current subjects is reportedly "Bacillus anthracis" strain H-4. Its virulence and antibiotic resistance have been dramatically increased using genetic engineering .

Popular culture references

*Robin Cook used the Sverdlovsk anthrax leak as a plot device in his novel "Vector". In the novel, a Russian immigrant named Yuri Davydov works with a neo-Nazi group to plan an anthrax attack on New York City. Yuri learned to develop anthrax while he was working at the Biopreparat facility in Sverdlovsk. He was there when the leak happened and his mother was one of the victims.
*There is an allusion to the Sverdlovsk anthrax leak in the FPS "Soldier of Fortune II - Double Helix" (made by a character who worked at the Biopreparat facility of Sverdlovsk).
*Greg Bear makes reference to the Sverdlovsk anthrax leak in "Quantico", a novel about genetically engineered pathogens and FBI agents trying to stop their release.
*Richard Preston tells the story of Sverdlovsk in the chapter 'Invisible History (II).' from his book "The Cobra Event".

Citations

ee also

* Anthrax
* Biopreparat
* Matthew Meselson
* Jeanne Guillemin
* Ken Alibek
* Biological warfare

External links

* [http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB61/ The National Security Archive]


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Anthrax — For other uses, see Anthrax (disambiguation). Anthrax Classification and external resources Microphotograph of a Gram stain of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, the cause of the anthrax disease …   Wikipedia

  • Sverdlovsk — Between 1924 and 1991 Yekaterinburg, Russia was also known as Sverdlovsk, and in railway timetables it still is. It is also the capital of the current Sverdlovsk Oblast Sverdlovsk ( uk. Свердловськ, translit. Sverdlovs’k , ru. Свердловск ) is a… …   Wikipedia

  • Yekaterinburg — Infobox Russian city EnglishName=Yekaterinburg RussianName=Екатеринбург Skyline = Ekaterinburg at night.jpg Skyline LatDeg=56 LatMin=50 LatSec LonDeg=60 LonMin=35 LonSec Locator LocatorMap CityDay=3rd Saturday of August FederalSubject=Sverdlovsk… …   Wikipedia

  • Biological warfare — For the use of biological agents by terrorists, see bioterrorism. Weapons of mass destruction …   Wikipedia

  • Boris Yeltsin — Yeltsin redirects here. For other uses, see Yeltsin (disambiguation). Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin Борис Николаевич Ельцин 1st President of the Russian Federation In office 25 December 1991 – …   Wikipedia

  • Biopreparat — (Russian: Биопрепарат, English: Biological substance preparation ) was the Soviet Union s major biological warfare agency. It was a vast network of secret laboratories, each focused on a different deadly agent. Its 30,000 employees researched and …   Wikipedia

  • Ken Alibek — Dr Kenneth Alibek Colonel Kanatzhan (Kanat) Alibekov (Kazakh: Қанатжан Әлібеков; Russian: Канатжан Алибеков; born 1950) known as Dr. Kenneth Alibek since 1992 is a former Soviet physician, scientist and biological warfare (BW) expert of Kazakh… …   Wikipedia

  • United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases — Infobox Military Unit unit name= U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases caption= The USAMRIID Logo dates= 1969 Present country= United States allegiance=United States branch= United States Army type= Medical R D Command role …   Wikipedia

  • 1979 — This article is about the year 1979. For the song by the Smashing Pumpkins, see 1979 (song). Millennium: 2nd millennium Centuries: 19th century – 20th century – 21st century Decades: 1940s  1950s  1960s  – …   Wikipedia

  • Russia and weapons of mass destruction — Weapons of mass destruction …   Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.