Dhiren Barot was an al Qaeda operative involved in plots to blow up the London subway, among other targets. To maximize the damage and the terror, he planned to pack some of his bombs with toxic gas. Fortunately, in August 2004, British authorities nabbed Barot and his accomplices before they could carry out their attacks.
But the threat of a gas attack remains. Where Barot failed, at some point someone might succeed. The right response to such an attack could minimize exposure and save hundreds of thousands of American lives.
With funding and guidance from the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), chemists at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) are researching ways to help the nation respond to and clean up after potential chemical attacks. They have been studying decontamination techniques for almost a decade.
Cleaning up chemical-contaminated structures can be difficult, costly, and time-consuming. For one thing, most preferred methods employ other chemicals, like bleach solutions, which can be corrosive and aggressive. Many building materialslike cement and brickare extremely porous and getting contaminants off such surfaces is difficult, as contaminants will seep into cracks and pores.
According to Donald Bansleben, program manager in S&T's Chemical and Biological Division, lasers could one day play a big role. "Lasers could help to scrub chemical-contaminated buildings clean and become a tool in the toolbox to speed a facility's return to normal operations."
Just as contaminants might get into those cracks and pores, water, too, can penetrate, and that's where lasers come in. Laser pulses can flash that water into steam, carrying the contaminants back to the surface for removal by chelation or other means. "It's a kind of laser steam-cleaning," says chemist Bob Fox.
When INL began investigating lasers, researchers were looking for ways to dispose of radioa
|Contact: John Verrico|
US Department of Homeland Security - Science and Technology