In the last few days I have received quite an education about beryllium, thanks to the distributed intelligence of the internet. After the Swedish anthrax post got linked all over the blogosphere, the comments and emails started coming in.
The latest is an email from a Russian reader, G.O.:
Beryllium oxide powder is extremely deadly.
The killer is beryllium oxide which causes berylliosis — a progressive chronic disease similar to asbestosis but with a very fast incubation period; it usually kills in few weeks. One inhale of beryllium oxide dust is a sure death sentence. No cure.
Before the danger of Be-oxide was recognized, workers involved in the fabrication of Be-ceramic died, also died their families and even pets. In the USSR communal apartments all the occupants of Be-contaminated apartments died. (People brought minute amounts of Be-oxide on their clothes).
Beryllium oxide is a superior ceramic; it has a very high temperature work range — over 3000 degrees Celsius. Most remarkable (and unique): Be-oxide is good a dielectric at very high temperature. Be-oxide is similar to aluminum oxide in mechanical properties and adhesion to the base metal. This is the reason why Be metal is relatively benign – unless it is ground into a powder. Fine Be oxide powder is indestructible and extremely deadly.
So… even though beryllium is not radioactive, it sounds like it might be dangerous in the hands of the terrorists.
Any powder will persist, burrow into every thing, and leave sufficient traces for any forensic scientist. Something as unique as Be oxide would make linking up terrorist to victim an easy task.
No terrorists handling methods can obscure the presence of something like this. So, if deception and stealth are criteria, this is a lousy choice. Instead, you need something from more diffult areas…(TBD)
And why should a forensic scientist
concern a terrorist?
Police find his body a month later
in some hotel room and this matters?
Still, I am not overly concerned
about the exotic attack. It is one
thing to have a scientist working
for a terrorist organization and,
maybe another,to have him carry out
the attack. It could happen but as
of yet it hasn’t.
This makes the use of exotic poison
Aum Shin Ryuko or whatever the name
of that Japanese cult made a good
sarin nerve agent but failed to
deliver it effectively, thank God.
Richard Reid had a novel delivery
system for an airborne bomb but he
too, being who and what he was, was
unable to carry out the inspired
scheme of his masters.
The difficulty in finding a ‘good’
suicide bomber must vex al Qaeda.
Mohammed Atta’s don’t grow on trees
I did count a train yesterday that
passed and kept me stopped by the
tracks for awhile. 120 cars went by
and as I tallied them I counted 5
that were chlorine tank cars. The
first two passed by with perhaps 10
or 20 cars seperating them, then
towards the end of the train, 3 of
the tankers passed by in a row.
Don’t know if they were full or if
they are dispersed down the length
of a mile long train for safety or
what but even a Richard Reid, armed
with a .50 calibre rifle could have
ventilated those tankers with ease.
I know DOT regulations require
hazardous cargoes be labeled as
such but surely they might want to
use a system that the Richard Reids
of the world might not be able to
sit at a train crossing and read.