Japan making strides in bioterror fight

Fifteen years since Japan experienced several biological and chemical attacks and attempted attacks by the cult group Aum Shinrikyo, officials with the Japan Self Defense Forces are still working to improve their ability to respond to such large scale attacks.

In March 1995, members of Aum Shinrikyo dispersed the nerve agent sarin in five subway vehicles in Tokyo. More than 5,500 people were affected and rushed to the hospital and 12 died.

Officials told CBRNEworld.com that ambulances could only transport a limited number of victims, as well first responders and healthcare workers who were not wearing protective equipment and experienced secondary exposure. Furthermore, the fire department, which did not have instruments that could detect sarin at that time, announced that the agent used in the attack was acetonitrile in the first report.

Although the subway attack showed the need for training and equipment for detection, personal protection, decontamination and cooperation between first responder agencies, government-level action did not start until the end of 1990s and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, according to CBRNEworld.com.

As a result of recent efforts, Advanced Rescue Teams are now required to have equipment - chemical protective suits, toxic gas measuring instruments and decontamination showers - for responding to NBC events.

Although the CBRN preparedness for hospitals is under review, most hospitals may have no, or very limited, capacity.

Chemical substance analyzers were also installed in 73 emergency medical centers, CBRNEworld.com reports. Gas masks, protective suits and decontamination facilities were installed in critical care centers after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Although the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has provided funds for purchasing basic equipment for CBRN disasters since 2006, it remainss impractical for most hospitals to purchase them with their limited budgets.

Government officials created a position specifically dedicated to provide countermeasures against NBC threats in Cabinet Secretariat for the first time last year, CBRNEworld.com reports, but NBC issues are still fragmented at the governmental level.

Government officials told CBRNEworld.com that promoting CBRN research and development and collaboration between the military and civilians is necessary.

Officials said that research and development is underway for mobile biological and chemical detection devices, stand-alone biological detection systems and level-A protection suits.