Chemical terror remains a threat

Jerome Hauer, the former assistant secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, writes in an opinion piece that while chemical terrorism remains a threat in the U.S., President Obama should be praised for his nuclear nonproliferation efforts since he took office.

But according to Hauer's commentary on, some experts believe the focus on nuclear weaponry may be unintentionally taking "from other, more likely terrorist threats, such as biological and chemical agents, conventional explosives, or a combination thereof."

Hauer references two recent New York City threats that were thwarted before anyone was harmed - the car bomb detonation attempt in Times Square and the arrest of a suicidal college student who was traversing the city through the subway with a backpack full of sodium cyanide and flares.

"Unlike nuclear or biological weapons, chemical weapons are relatively easy and inexpensive to acquire and deploy," Hauer writes. "Commercially available chemicals, such as malathion and parathion – organophosphorus pesticides commonly used in agriculture – are highly toxic and have the potential to inflict significant casualties in minutes, especially if used by someone willing to die in the effort. Pesticides, cyanide and other poisons are readily accessible in the U.S., traveling via road and rail through our cities every day."

Hauer recommends arming first-responding units with better protective gear and up-to-date antidotes for a wide range of chemical threats.

"And it means training and exercising specifically to deal with chemical terrorism," he writes. "Specialized exercises by individual groups, and large-scale exercises that involve the medical community and local, state and federal agencies, help identify gaps in response protocols and strengthen partnerships between agencies so they work together more effectively."