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CNN Today

JAMA Report Says Guidlines for Managing Hazardous Material Disasters Need Updating

Aired January 12, 2000 - 2:49 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We've heard many warnings recently about the threat of bioterrosim. But we've heard very little about what to do about it. If such an attack happens, will we be ready? Here's CNN's Dr. Steve Salvatore.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. STEVE SALVATORE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York's Times Square: Nearly 2 million people gathered to celebrate the new millennium: a prime target for a bioterrorist attack. Nothing happened New Year's, but if a biological or chemical attack had occurred, what then?

DR. JOSEPH BARBERA, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I don't think we're prepared as a country or as a health-care community for optimal response to a true widespread chemical contamination.

SALVATORE: According to a report published in this week's "Journal of the American Medical Association," old guidelines for managing hazardous material disasters urgently need updating.

BARBERA: They've been based on the military approach to chemical warfare, and the experience that we expect from hospitals is very different and needs to be less expensive, more practical sort of approach.

SALVATORE: Decontamination is a key element in handling these types of disasters. At New York's Presbyterian Hospital, they say they're ready.

PETER TOSTAINE, EMERGENCY MEDICAL TECHNICIAN: We scrub them down, and then we move to the next shower -- we rinse them down. Then we bring them inside the hospital, because they're now as decontaminated as they can possibly be.

SALVATORE (on camera): Experts say a chemical attack with a deadly nerve gas could kill thousands of people at ground zero within minutes. It would be rapidly identified and contained. A biological attack with a deadly organism, like Anthrax, they say, could be worse.

DR. NEAL FLOMENBAUM, NEW YORK PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL: The biological agents may be somewhat more insidious, depending on whether the people responsible alert everyone to it or whether they just wait until the effects become known.

BARBERA: What we really need is some pretty good scientific research to show what kind of protection really is needed.

SALVATORE (voice-over): Currently, the JAMA study says no practical contingency plan exists to handle a large-scale biological or chemical attack. Most counterterrorist experts believe it's not a question of if such a plan will ever be utilized, but when.

Dr. Steve Salvatore, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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