Better Biothreat Screening

Over a decade after the post-Sept. 11 anthrax mail scares, rapidly screening and identifying potential biological agents in suspicious powders remains a challenge. A proposed ASTM International standard, WK46895, Specification for Hand Portable Biodetection Instruments for Homeland Security Applications, will prove to be helpful in this area.

"It is important that testing requirements balance the need for a validated instrument and assay with the need for a process that is not cost- or time-prohibitive and allows for the insertion of new technologies and assays as they are developed," says ASTM member Richard Ozanich. "This is particularly true for biodetection technologies because assay formulations are constantly improving and new technologies continue to emerge."

Ozanich is a senior research scientist in the Chemical and Biological Signature Science Group of the National Security Directorate at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He notes that there are many commercial biodetection products available for screening suspicious powders for anthrax, ricin and other biothreat agents, but there is little independent information available regarding the performance of these products.

"First responders often purchase products based on vendor-provided information or colleague recommendations," says Ozanich. "While it is critical to test and evaluate biodetection instrumentation, it is also important to perform the process using a standardized method that has been vetted by the first responder community, stakeholders and manufacturers."

The instruments covered by the proposed standard are widely used by fire departments, law enforcement, hazardous material teams and national guard civil support teams when responding to potential bioterrorism events. In addition to use by first responders, WK46895 will allow manufacturers, laboratories and grant funding agencies to establish performance specifications for equipment to be procured.

The draft standard is being developed by Subcommittee E54.01 on CBRNE Sensors and Detectors, part of ASTM International Committee E54 on Homeland Security Applications. All interested parties, particularly field instrument and assay manufacturers, end users of such products and other biodetection experts, are welcome to participate in the ongoing standards development activities of E54.01.

CONTACT Technical Information: Richard Ozanich, National Security Directorate, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory • Richland, Wash. • tel +1.509.375.4586 | ASTM Staff: Robert Morgan • tel +1.610.832.9732 | Upcoming Meeting: June 15-17 • June Committee Week • Anaheim, Calif.

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