Last year’s attack on the World Trade Center raised the nation’s consciousness about the danger of terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The anthrax attack at the Brentwood post office heightened these concerns.

Inevitably, the U.S. government turned to the Laborers to help solve these problems.

LIUNA-affiliated contractors were asked to do the clean-up at the post office, and Laborers-AGC was asked to develop the training program to prepare for possible future attacks using WMDs. In turn, Laborers-AGC partnered with the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) to develop the health and safety side of the program.

Chemical and Biological WMDs

Nerve Agents

Blister Agents

Pulmonary Agents

Biological Agents

Judy Paul, the LHSFNA’s Occupational Health Nurse, developed the core content of the WMD training and presented it to health professionals associated with the Laborers-AGC environmental workers training program at the Laborers-AGC/LHSFNA Medical Conference last month in Lisle, IL. She covered three broad areas:chemical weapons, biological weapons and radiation (the so-called “dirty”) bombs.

The list of possible biological and chemical weapons is long and varied. Each is different in its delivery mechanisms, effects, medical treatment and decontamination procedures. Unfortunately, in the event of an attack, it may not be obvious which agent has been employed; indeed, in some cases, such as smallpox, it may not be apparent until some time later, even, that an attack has occurred. To be effective in combating these kinds of attacks, “We need professionals with a thorough knowledge of the ways each agent performs,” Paul said. “In addition, we need an emergency workforce that can clean up contaminated areas.”

Speaking to a group of medical professionals, Paul also noted, “Our first responsibility—since, as dedicated professionals, we respond immediately to any emergency—is to protect ourselves. If we don’t protect ourselves, no one will be there to protect anyone else.”

Because of their experience in hazardous materials remediation, Laborers and affiliated contractors provide the broadest and best-trained foundation upon which a skilled response structure can be developed. The presentations at the Medical Conference were designed to get the first assessment of potential attacks and their associated risks out into the established hazardous waste training currently conducted by Laborers-AGC nationwide. In the coming months, as the curriculum is further developed and refined, a training program dealing specifically with response to attacks by weapons of mass destruction will be implemented.

[Steve Clark]