PUBLIC concern about potential biological terrorism has grown quickly with the diagnosis of a second employee showing signs of the anthrax bacteria at the Florida offices of supermarket tabloid newspapers. However remote the possibility of such an attack might be -- the Florida anthrax is not known to be part of one -- government agencies need to increase their preparedness and provide more guidance to fearful Americans.
U.S. should step up
The issue: Florida anthrax
poisoning has increased concern
about biological warfare.
Hawaii may be more prepared than many states. A 22-person Army National Guard unit was among 17 state Weapons of Mass Destruction Civilian Support Teams that was formed earlier this year at a cost of $3.5 million each. Ten such groups came on line a year earlier in other areas of the country. However, the Hawaii team was not expected to be in operation for at least another year because of the lengthy training involved. Recent events should require an acceleration of that schedule.
Many people understandably are frightened about the possibility of being exposed to anthrax or smallpox, the two germs most commonly mentioned as potential agents of terrorism. Anthrax, although not contagious, is relatively easy to acquire. It is considered lethal to people who inhale it and are not treated promptly. Apparently unaware of emergency measures that are in place, many panic-stricken Americans are stocking up on antibiotics that can be purchased at pharmacies.
Smallpox is contagious, but much more difficult than anthrax for a terrorist to obtain. Samples of the virus were supposed to be concentrated in two laboratories -- one in the United States, the other in Russia -- since the disease was eradicated worldwide in 1977. Rumors that some rogue nations have acquired supplies have not been confirmed.
The government has been lax in preparing a defense against biological warfare by terrorists. National Guard sentries last week began guarding a Michigan plant that is the sole provider of anthrax vaccine to the military. But the plant has not produced any vaccine since 1998, when a company bought the plant from the state and proceeded to flunk Food and Drug Administration inspections.
Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, has arranged for the manufacturer of a smallpox vaccine to deliver 40 million doses by the end of next summer, more than two years earlier than had been planned. He says the vaccine then will be kept in government stockpiles, for use in the event that the virus is used as a weapon. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for smallpox, which kills about 30 percent of unvaccinated victims.
A government report that automakers are using fuel-saving technology to build bigger, more powerful instead of more efficient vehicles puts Detroit on the hot seat at a time when the American presence in oil-producing countries appears to be a rallying point for terrorists.
Automakers pick size
over fuel efficiency
The issue: The industry is using
gasoline-saving technology to
rev up bigger vehicles.
The instability in the Mideast and the contention that U.S. interests are mainly in protecting oil supplies certainly amplifies the need for as much conservation as possible.
Fuel economy of new passenger vehicles is the poorest it has been in 20 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Average fuel use has decreased 1.9 miles per gallon since 1988 because automakers have not used available methods to improve fuel economy, but made cars bigger with greater acceleration. The EPA says that such vehicles -- SUVs, vans and pickup trucks -- suck up 56 percent of the fuel in passenger transport.
In their defense, automakers say they are only producing what the public wants, pointing to figures that show these types of vehicles make up 46 percent of their sales.
Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences, in an effort to rebut industry complaints, said last week it will review its recent study concluding that the automakers can increase fuel efficiency without making cars smaller. The study showed that fuel efficiency could be increased by 16 to 47 percent over the next 10 to 15 years using today's technology. Automakers contend that the study's numbers were miscalculated, even though the U.S. Department of Energy independently found the academy study valid.
It appears that despite automakers' protests, the evidence is stacking up against them. If the study still stands after the academy review, automakers will be swimming again a quickening tide. In the present political climate, they have a clear responsibility to produce cars that use less gasoline.
At the same time, Congress and the Bush administration must stand up to the industry, its lobbyists and deep-pocket campaign donors and impose an increase in fuel-efficiency standards that were last adjusted in 1975 after the Arab oil embargo.
The car-buying public should realign its wants to its needs. How many urban dwellers truly require a four-wheel drive, off-road gas-guzzler to make a two-mile trip on well-paved streets to the mall?
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