Making the UK safer: detecting and decontaminating chemical and biological agents

21 April 2004

Recent global events have given greater prominence to the threat of chemical and biological agents being used malevolently against civil targets such as key landmarks, transport hubs and postal sorting offices. Science, engineering and technology are central to reducing this threat and so making the UK safer. The Royal Society has produced a report investigating how to detect when chemical or biological agents have been used and how to decontaminate people and buildings subjected to attack using such agents.

The report is aimed principally at three groups: national and local Government policy-makers involved in long-term planning to increase preparedness against a possible incident; emergency service staff (or first responders) who would be directly involved in dealing with the consequences of an incident; and scientists and engineers working in areas that could be applied to extending existing detection and decontamination capabilities, particularly those who are currently unaware of the potential of their work. Whilst the report has focused on UK expertise and preparedness, many of the conclusions and recommendations have wider international relevance. The report will also be of interest to anyone wishing to learn how science can contribute to reducing the threat from chemical and biological agents.

The report concludes that there is much related knowledge and expertise available in the UK, some of which has been acquired in a military context. However, no single Government Department appears to have full responsibility for determining how this expertise can best be utilised. While the establishment of the CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear) Team in the Home Office has improved coordination and awareness, considerably more organisation of the resources is required.

Our major recommendation is that the UK Government should establish a new centre to improve the UKs resilience and to minimise the impact of any civilian chemical or biological incident.

Press releases

A media release was issued announcing the study on 21 April 2004:

New centre needed to improve ability to deal with chemical or biological attack

The Royal Society issued a press release on Thursday 13 March 2003 announcing the study:

Royal Society launches study to tackle threat from biological and chemical weapons

Related Royal Society publications

The Society has produced a number of statements and reports relating to biological weapons: