WHAT TO DO IN THE EVENT THAT A DIRTY BOMB IS DETONATED IN YOUR AREA
Because of recent terrorist events, people have expressed concern about the possibility of a terrorist attack involving radioactive materials, possibly through the use of a “dirty bomb,” and the harmful effects of radiation from such an event. This fact sheet was prepared to help people understand what a dirty bomb is and how it may affect their health.
WHAT IS A DIRTY BOMB?
A dirty bomb, or radiological dispersion device, is a bomb that combines conventional explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive materials in the form of powder or pellets. The idea behind a dirty bomb is to blast radioactive material into the area around the explosion. This could possibly cause buildings
and people to be exposed to radioactive material. The main purpose of a dirty bomb is to frighten people and make buildings or land unusable for a long period of time.
DIRTY BOMB VERSUS THE ATOMIC BOMBS OF HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI
The atomic explosions that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were conventional nuclear weapons involving a fission reaction. A dirty bomb is designed to spread radioactive material and contaminate a small area. It does not include the fission products necessary to create a large blast like those seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
HOW MUCH EXPERTISE DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE A DIRTY BOMB?
Not much more than it takes to make a conventional bomb. No special assembly is required; the regular explosive would simply disperse the radioactive material packed into the bomb. The hard part is acquiring the radioactive material, not building the bomb. The Washington Post reported in March 2002 that the Bush
administration’s consensus view was that Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network probably had such often-stolen radioactive contaminants as strontium 90 and cesium 137, which could be used to make a dirty bomb. In January 2003, British officials found documents in the Afghan city of Herat that led them to conclude
that al Qaeda had successfully built a small dirty bomb. In late December 2003, homeland security officials worried that al Qaeda would detonate a dirty bomb during New Year’s Eve celebrations or college football bowl games, according to The Washington Post. The Department of Energy sent scores of undercover nuclear scientists with radiation detection equipment to key locations in five major U.S. cities, the Post reported.
The relative ease of constructing such weapons makes them a particularly worrisome threat, counterterrorism experts say. Even so, expertise matters. Not all dirty bombs are equally dangerous: the cruder the weapon, the less damage caused. We don’t know if terrorists could handle and detonate high-grade radioactive material
without fatally injuring themselves first.
IS A DIRTY BOMB A NUCLEAR WEAPON?
No. Nuclear weapons involve a complex nuclear-fission reaction and are thousands of times more devastating.
IS A DIRTY BOMB A WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION?
Yes, but more because of its capacity to cause terror and disruption than its ability to inflict heavy casualties, experts say. Depending on the sophistication of the bomb, wind conditions, and the speed with which the area of the attack was evacuated, the number of deaths and injuries from a dirty bomb explosion might not be substantially greater than from a conventional bomb explosion. But panic over radioactivity and evacuation measures could snarl a city. Moreover, the area struck would be off-limits for at least several months—possibly years—during cleanup efforts, which could paralyze a local economy and reinforce public fears about being
near a radioactive area.
SOURCES OF THE RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL IN DIRTY BOMBS
There has been a lot of speculation about where terrorists could get radioactive material to place in a dirty bomb. The most harmful radioactive materials are found in nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons sites. However, increased security at these facilities makes obtaining materials from them more difficult. Because of the dangerous and difficult aspects of obtaining high-level radioactive materials from a nuclear facility, there is a greater chance that the radioactive materials used in a dirty bomb would come from low-level radioactive sources. Low-level radioactive sources are found in hospitals, on construction sites, and at food irradiation plants. The sources in these areas are used to diagnose and treat illnesses, sterilize equipment, inspect welding seams, and irradiate food to kill harmful microbes.
DANGERS OF A DIRTY BOMB
If low-level radioactive sources were to be used, the primary danger from a dirty bomb would be the blast itself. Gauging how much radiation might be present is difficult when the source of the radiation is unknown. However, at the levels created by most probable sources, not enough radiation would be present in a dirty bomb to cause severe illness from exposure to radiation.
PAST USE OF DIRTY BOMBS
According to a United Nations report, Iraq tested a dirty bomb device in 1987 but found that the radiation levels were too low to cause significant damage. Thus, Iraq abandoned any further use of the device.
WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD DO FOLLOWING THE DETONATION OF A DIRTY BOMB
* Radiation cannot be seen, smelled, felt, or tasted by humans. Therefore, if people are present at the scene of an explosion from a suspected dirty bomb, they will not know whether radioactive materials were involved at the time of the explosion. If people are not too severely injured by the initial blast,they should:
* Leave the immediate area on foot.
* Move in the opposite direction of wind, look for blowing trash or the direction of ash fall, smoke trail travel or cup your hands under your face and watch in what direction the dust in the air from the blast is traveling in as it becomes visible as it floats over a contrast in color.
* Do not panic.
* Cover your nose and mouth with any piece of fabric to prevent the inhalation of radioactive ash or toxic explosive or construction material ash as in the 9/11 twin towers toxic dust and ash following their collapse. You can even use your purse over opened over your mouth and nose as a makeshift face mask. DO NOT use a military / commercial grade gas mask as the ash will clog the filters in as little as a few minutes. Use something more porous such as a t-shirt to stop large ash particles when close to the explosion site. The further away from the detonation site you are the higher grade filtering you will need. If in your home or miles downwind then you can make effective use of a military or commercial grade mask filtration system. If a true gas mask is unavailable then use medical face masks. If medical grade dust masks are unavailable either use a shirt or blouse tied over your nose and mouth or refer to future post on home made gas masks.
* Do not take public or private transportation such as buses, subways, or cars because if radioactive materials were involved, they may contaminate cars or the public transportation system. Expect all major roadways leaving the area to be clogged with traffic and panicked people there-by blocking emergency services and compounding the situation. The longer the area is without authority figures to control the situation the more people tend to panic usually to the point of hysteria by the time emergency services are able to even assess the situation. Do not expect to get an official response from local authorities as whether or not it is radioactive or biological for at least several hours so take precautions ahead of official notification just in case.
* Go inside the nearest building. Staying inside will reduce people’s exposure to any radioactive material from a dirty bomb that may be on dust at the scene.
* Remove their clothes as soon as possible, place them in a plastic bag, and seal it. Removing clothing will remove most of the contamination caused by external exposure to radioactive materials. Saving the contaminated clothing would allow testing for exposure without invasive sampling but ensure it is kept at least 30 feet from prolonged exposure to people .
* If you are home at the time, turn off your heating and cooling air units to prevent radioactive ash from being blown into your home. DO NOT SEAL YOUR ENTIRE HOME with plastic sheeting and duck tape over the door seams, air vents and windows. Block only the doors and windows on the side of the house facing the direction of where the blast occurred in relation to your home as this is the direction that current winds will carry small dust particles into the home through cracks and seams of windows and doors. Blocking all circulation of air not only creates an environment for a biological growth in the event the attack was biological versus radioactive dirty bomb, but creates a potentially carbon dioxide toxic environment.
* DO NOT VENTURE OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOME OR SEEK TO FIND LOVED ONES THAT WERE OUTSIDE
OF THE HOME AT THE TIME OF THE INCIDENT.
* Anyone arriving to your home after the explosion should be quarantined is a sealed safe room (refer to future post on creating a safe room) where they should strip off all clothing and wash themselves down thoroughly then remain separated from other members of the family for 72 hours to ensure the attack didn't contain a biological agent.
* Take a shower or wash themselves as best they can if exposed to dust from the explosion especially your hair. Washing will reduce the amount of radioactive contamination on the body and will effectively reduce total exposure. If in the home, ensure that you are fully dressed to prevent to much of your skin from potentially being coated in toxic ash or dust.
* Immediately fill all tubs and sinks and any available containers with tap water following the blast but no longer then one hour following the blast as municipal water sources may have become contaminated with radioactive ash.
* All plates, bowls, cups, pots and pans should be rinsed prior to use due to dust infiltration into your home. Use only bottled water or water stored immediately following the blast.
* Wash any fruit or vegetables sitting out on the counters before eating them following the blast due to the infiltration of radioactive ash / dust.
* Cover your bed linen and pillows with a blanket during the day to prevent dust from collecting on the linen surface where you and loved ones will make skin contact while sleeping. Sleep fully dressed to limit skin contact with potentially hazardous radioactive dust.
* Continue to wear some form of breathing barrier ie...shirt or dust mask even while sleeping until given the "ALL CLEAR" from the local authorities.
* Using ceiling fans during hot climate areas WILL jeopardize your home's integrity to dust infiltration. Using your fireplace in cold climate areas WILL pull dust into your home via door jams so use tissue paper or cloth to seal your doors as filters. Woodstoves, electric space heaters or portable electric fans will not jeopardize the integrity of your home to dust infiltration.
* Be on the lookout for information via the emergency broadcasts over the radio, t.v., internet, CDC text update or cb/ham radio emergency broadcast frequencies, national or local services (police, firefighters, medical or transportation). Once emergency personnel have assessed the scene and the damage, they will be able to tell people whether radiation was involved.
* Expect services to be interrupted such as a loss in water pressure or electricity, cell phone lines to be jammed from panicked call overload, natural gas has a tendency to be shut down to prevent fires from potential ruptured public lines, cable lines to be severed or overloaded same with the internet as these systems often share the same information transfer lines, all depending on the location of the explosive device, the strength of the device and local authority response procedures.
* Even if people do not know whether radioactive materials were present, following these simple steps can help reduce their injury from other chemicals that might have been present in the blast.
IF RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS WERE USED
Keep televisions or radios tuned to local news networks. If a radioactive material was released, people will be told where to report for radiation monitoring and blood tests to determine whether they were exposed to the radiation as well as what steps to take to protect their health.
RISK OF CANCER FROM A DIRTY BOMB
Some cancers can be caused by exposure to radiation. Being at the site where a dirty bomb exploded does not guarantee that people were exposed to the radioactive material. Until doctors are able to check people’s skin with sensitive radiation detection devices, it will not be clear whether they were exposed. Just because people are near a radioactive source for a short time or get a small amount of radioactive material on them does not mean that they will get cancer. Doctors will be able to assess risks after the exposure level has been determined.
Should any calamity befall you or your family that changes your situation to one of survival, do you know what to do, where to go, how to get there, what to do once you get there, how to provide for yourself and loved ones or what you will need and how much? Most lack the forethought to plan ahead and prepare themselves for any likelihood other then a flat tire, and even then only because the automobile factory placed it in the vehicle for them. Feel free to read, experiment and improvise what I have put on this site to potentially help you one day.