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Eurosurveillance, Volume 7, Issue 2, 09 January 2003
Articles

Citation style for this article: Baka A, van Loock F, Tegnell A, Vittozzi L, Gouvras G. Chemical threats in the EU Health Security Programme. Euro Surveill. 2003;7(2):pii=2144. Available online: http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=2144

Chemical threats in the EU Health Security Programme

Agoritsa  Baka (Agoritsa.BAKA@cec.eu.int), Frank Van Loock, Anders Tegnell, Luciano Vittozzi, Georgios Gouvras, Task Force on Biological and Chemical Agent Attacks, Public Health Directorate, European Commission, Luxembourg.

All projected tasks for the European Commission’s Task Force for Biological and Chemical Attacks (http://europa.eu.int/comm/health/ph/programmes/bio-terrorism/index_en.html) take both biological and chemical threats into account. The Task Force experts have compiled information from a series of valid lists of toxic threats, from bodies including the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Australia Group* (AG), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and others. A list of suspicious chemicals and toxins is being finalised by the Task Force, working with their counterparts in the Global Health Security Initiative of the G7+ countries (1). The Task Force’s activities are a part of the Programme of cooperation on preparedness and response to biological and chemical agent attacks (http://europa.eu.int/comm/health/ph/programmes/bio-terrorism/bioterrorism01_en.pdf)

In order to create clinical review documents on the toxic syndromes and treatment of the toxic agents on the list, the Task Force is in the process of initiating cooperation with the European Association of Poison Control Centers and Clinical Toxicologists (EAPCCT, http://www.eapcct.org/). The task force has also initiated the preparation of a guidance document on the use of antidotes and pharmaceuticals, to be produced by the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products (EMEA, http://www.emea.eu.int/).

Hundreds of chemicals enter the market each day. Detailed information is available for only a few hundred of the hundreds of thousands of chemical substances that exist and are possibly in regular use. Given that tonnes of some of these substances are produced by industry every year, almost any industrial chemical in the wrong hands could potentially be used as a weapon.

Existing EU legislation on chemical accidents and chemicals in the work place, and in drinking water and food, is also under review. The Seveso II directive (96/82/EC) (http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/seveso/) provides much data on dangerous chemicals and the Task Force has initiated work with the relevant unit in the Joint Research Center (JRC, http://www.jrc.it/) that manages this database. 

An inventory of the poison centres in the EU member states has been completed, and their involvement in responding to acts of deliberate release of agents surveyed. Data from the survey will also provide the beginnings of a larger inventory of scientific expertise, both clinical and laboratory-related, in the EU. Contacts with international organisations that work in the field of chemicals are in also being made, in order to forge information sharing agreements on expertise. 

A working group on chemical threats of nominated experts from the 15 member states was recently established, and met for the first time on 11 December 2002. This working group will meet regularly, and its role is to assist the Task Force with prioritising the work and tasks. A project of collaborative surveillance between member state poison centres of toxic syndromes is underway, to facilitate earlier recognition of a possible chemical agent release, and planning is underway for a combined biological and chemical European evaluation exercise.

*The Australia group was set up in 1985 with the objective of controlling the export of dual use biological and chemical goods. It includes 33 countries, including the EU member states and the European Commission.

Relevant web sites on chemicals and toxic agents:

 

References :
  1. Hoile E. Global Health Security Initiative strengthens preparedness and response to smallpox and other bioterrorist threats. Eurosurveillance Weekly 2002; 6: 021212. (http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ew/2002/021212.asp

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