Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Denver: Speaking of cyanide

Freaky. The lobby of Dinah's old stomping ground,
Triple Nickel California.

and since nobody else is talking about the dead Muslim schizophrenic found with a pound of it less than three miles away from the Pepsi Center - OR about the recent al Qaeda threats to poison the water supplies of Western cities, here's an account of a disaster contingency exercise conducted in San Fran's financial district this weekend. Let's hope Denver is up to speed with theirs.

Preparing for an Urban WMD Attack.

On Saturday, the San Francisco Fire Department, along with a group of other public and private agencies, ran a large-scale training exercise revolving around an urban weapons of mass destruction terrorist attack. Here, an emergency worker in a full hazmat suit examines the faux chemical that was supposedly found in the attack, which was said to be sodium cyanide, a poison that quickly affects peoples respiratory systems. On the ground behind, volunteers playing the role of dead victims lay prone.(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET News)

The scenario was this: a terrorist with a backpack full of sodium cyanide (Ed. note: Say about a pound or so?)--a chemical used in gold mining operations that quickly attacks and shuts down the human respiratory system--unleashed it inside 555 California.

Because of the victims, the fire department is the first to arrive on the scene, and when the firefighters discover what's happened, they isolate the building's lobby and deny entry into the building by anyone else, and then quickly set up a mass decontamination system nearby. And then they call in the specialists...

(An interesting read with great pics. Check it out.)

Oh, and about that water supply poisoning? Not with just a pound of the stuff...

"It is very difficult to covertly poison a reservoir," the official said on the condition of anonymity. "It would take many truckloads of poison, which would make it difficult to do secretly. That is not really a viable threat."

"It's more feasible if they try to poison a specific building," the official said. "But even then, the volume of water already going through the system would dilute whatever was introduced. It would be very difficult to kill anyone. What would happen would be that people would get sick, which would cause panic."

Hmm. Poison a specific building. Pepsi Center per chance? It's not like they haven't tried it before or anything... Remember this old chestnut plot from 2002? Italian police explore al Qaeda links in poison plot.

"...the investigation into the case of the nine Moroccans continues. Five of them were found with slightly under 10 pounds of potassium-ferrocyanide, a cyanide compound used in agriculture, and maps of the water main located in underground utility tunnels around the American embassy in Rome.

Press leaks and the discovery of the hole in a tunnel containing a water main led to a wave of panic and speculation that the terrorists were trying to contaminate the water supply of central-northern Rome. Though US State Department officials downplayed the risk to the embassy, Cavallo says that the Moroccans had the capacity to create poisonous substances. Along with the cyanide compound, police found a gunpowder substance that could have created the heat needed to release the cyanide gas, he says.

And then there's as recently as 2008 in Iraq where a letter and document lifted from a dead terrorist has al Qaeda discussing the "psychological war" effect of poisoning the water supply on the dear sheeple:

The letter advises that a chemical offensive can inflict both physical and mental harm. Contaminating Iraqis' water can produce "killing and dangerous illness," and also convince the enemy "that we have a dangerous chemical weapon," Safyan wrote. "But in fact," he continues, "it's a psychological war that places fear in the enemy."

But back to Mr. Dirie. Since authorities are claiming that Mr. Dirie killed himself ingesting cyanide I wondered how much sodium cyanide you would have to eat to kill yourself. Thanks to Cyanide Q&A (who knew?) for enlightenment.

How much cyanide is harmful? The lethal dose of cyanide is approximately 0.5 - 1.0 mg/kg body weight or about 70 mg for an adult. The cyanide ion of soluble cyanide compounds is rapidly absorbed from all routes of entry, respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, and less readily absorbed through the skin. However, accidental or intentional poisoning is more likely to involve ingestion of a cyanide salt, whereas occupational poisoning is more likely to involve inhalation of hydrogen cyanide.

70 mg. A smidge? Probably more. Mr. Dirie was a big man and has been described by neighbors as a "Fat Albert" kind of guy. Depends on the density of the sodium cyanide which is unknown to us at this point.