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View Full Version : What do I do about an anthrax contamination?



debirlfan
02-22-2011, 05:02 AM
I have a building - probably an abandoned warehouse - that's been contaminated by anthrax spores. Would burning it kill the spores, or just release them into the air? I seem to remember that back when several post offices were contaminated, they were closed for quite some time while they were cleaned, but in this case, there is no reason to save the building, and my characters would much prefer a quick and simple solution to the problem. Thanks!

jclarkdawe
02-22-2011, 07:47 AM
I don't know if anthrax would survive, but there are other problems relating to burning down a building.

First would be the distance from this building to any other buildings. You'd probably need a hundred yards or more so that exposures don't catch on fire.

Second is all the hazards in an existing building. Asbestos, asphalt, lead paint, and chemicals are some of the problems that exist in warehouses and factories. And they all get spread around in smoke from a fire. I doubt that you'd be allowed to burn down a warehouse to solve the problem.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

debirlfan
02-22-2011, 10:28 AM
Second is all the hazards in an existing building. Asbestos, asphalt, lead paint, and chemicals are some of the problems that exist in warehouses and factories. And they all get spread around in smoke from a fire. I doubt that you'd be allowed to burn down a warehouse to solve the problem.


Well, it's not exactly a case of "being allowed" - what's the old saying about it being easier to beg forgiveness than get permission. (And my characters tend to believe in quick and dirty solutions.) I'm just trying to make sure that a good rip-roaring fire would indeed kill the anthrax.

ColoradoMom
02-22-2011, 03:22 PM
Spores are extremely hard to kill - they can live for years in the dormant state.

See OSHA guidelines here: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/anthrax/response.html

GeorgeK
02-22-2011, 05:30 PM
In Med School in Microbiology the professor actually posed this to us as a question. Burning was considered the worst thing to do because of spores. Ultimately what the government decided to do with the out dated building where they did their tests was to fill the whole thing with concrete and then bury it. That was in like the 50's when the event actually occurred. Nowdays there actually are decontamination procedures. They're very expensive.

jclarkdawe
02-22-2011, 05:34 PM
Originally Posted by jclarkdawe http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/buttons/viewpost.gif (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=5851733#post5851733)

Second is all the hazards in an existing building. Asbestos, asphalt, lead paint, and chemicals are some of the problems that exist in warehouses and factories. And they all get spread around in smoke from a fire. I doubt that you'd be allowed to burn down a warehouse to solve the problem.
Well, it's not exactly a case of "being allowed" - what's the old saying about it being easier to beg forgiveness than get permission. (And my characters tend to believe in quick and dirty solutions.) I'm just trying to make sure that a good rip-roaring fire would indeed kill the anthrax.

If they do it in the Northeastern part of the US, they might get forgiveness, but are more likely to be facing six or seven figure fines from the EPA at both the State and Federal level. And potentially criminal charges.

There's no guarantee what a structure fire will do for destruction. As the fire burns, portions of the building will collapse, leaving areas that receive minimal heat and destruction. This is ignoring any fire suppression efforts, which will just increase this effect.

Second problem is that large fires generate a lot of soot that is relatively cool. Spoors could attach to that, and if it doesn't reach the burn temperature for anthrax spores, would be lifted out of the fire and carried in the wind.

Controlled burns are a different matter, where active attempts are made to control fallout and insure full burning.

But apparently burning is possible. From a less than reliable source (Wikipedia)


Clean up of anthrax-contaminated areas on ranches and in the wild is much more problematic. Carcasses may be burned, though it often takes up to three days to burn a large carcass and this is not feasible in areas with little wood. Carcasses may also be buried, though the burying of large animals deeply enough to prevent resurfacing of spores requires much manpower and expensive tools. Carcasses have been soaked in formaldehyde to kill spores, though this has environmental contamination issues. Block burning of vegetation in large areas enclosing an anthrax outbreak has been tried; this, while environmentally destructive, causes healthy animals to move away from an area with carcasses in search of fresh graze and browse. Some wildlife workers have experimented with covering fresh anthrax carcasses with shadecloth and heavy objects. This prevents some scavengers from opening the carcasses, thus allowing the putrefactive bacteria within the carcass to kill the vegetative B. anthracis cells and preventing sporulation. This method also has drawbacks, as scavengers such as hyenas are capable of infiltrating almost any exclosure. The occurrence of previously dormant anthrax, stirred up from below the ground surface by wind movement in a drought-stricken region with depleted grazing and browsing, may be seen as a form of natural culling and a first step in rehabilitation of the area.Unfortunately, this section doesn't have any footnotes, and my desire to research further isn't high. I think in an urban area, the EPA would be extremely concerned about ashes and soot fallout, and would nail your characters to the wall with fines.

But it is a plausible approach for idiots to try, and as long as no one discovers the anthrax, could work.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

debirlfan
02-22-2011, 09:38 PM
Thanks, all. I was afraid burning the place wouldn't work. I think I'll just have my good (but not exactly official or legal) guys eliminate the bad guys, then make a call to the feds to clean up the mess.

ColoradoMom
02-22-2011, 11:16 PM
Thanks, all. I was afraid burning the place wouldn't work. I think I'll just have my good (but not exactly official or legal) guys eliminate the bad guys, then make a call to the feds to clean up the mess.


There you go! ;) Call the CDC -that's their job anyway.

Buffysquirrel
02-23-2011, 02:09 AM
Apparently you cover the building with a tent and pump in chlorine dioxide gas. Who knew?