Magazine article Science News

Stored Slime Reveals Why Release Went Undetected. (Cult Anthrax)

Magazine article Science News

Stored Slime Reveals Why Release Went Undetected. (Cult Anthrax)

Article excerpt

A sample of mysterious ooze has shed new light on the use of biological weapons in 1993 by the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo.

The cult achieved worldwide notoriety in March 1995 for releasing sarin, a deadly nerve gas, in the Tokyo subway system. It killed 12 people and sickened some 5,000 more. Evidence now shows that 2 years before that, the cult released anthrax in Tokyo, says Paul Keim of the Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. At the time, however, nobody noticed anything more serious than an annoying smell.

This week in Denver at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Keim and his colleagues expanded on the drama behind their previously published technical account of how the anthrax release proved to be a life-sparing dud.

The cult owned an eight-story building in the section of the Tokyo metropolitan area called Kameido. During 4 days in mid-1993, public health officials logged some 160 complaints about how bad the place smelled. The officials never gained access to the building, Keim said, but the government did take photographs of a structure on the roof that was puffing out a white mist. Workers also collected samples of what Keim describes as "slime" dripping down the side of the building.

Because officials suspected the cult might have been cooking bodies down for disposal, they had the slime analyzed for human proteins, Keim said. None was found.

The investigation stalled for 2 years. …

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