City to monitor events for dangerous toxins
By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
City officials say Honolulu isn't a likely target for biological or chemical attack, but with stationary and handheld air sampling monitors, the city is well-equipped to identify dangerous toxins.
During a spate of anthrax scares following Sept. 11, the city purchased six stationary air monitors and a dozen hand-held field-testing kits, as well as a mobile DNA lab that can quickly identify anthrax, plague, botulism toxin and other deadly agents.
The stationary monitors have been placed at five heavily populated locations on O'ahu, while plainclothes city personnel will be carrying the hand-held monitors at major events, such as those at Aloha Stadium, the Waikiki Shell and Blaisdell Arena.
For security reasons, the city has declined to identify the exact locations of the fixed monitors.
City Emergency Medical Services Director Salvatore Lanzilotti said his staff will meet weekly to determine which gatherings the city will monitor, taking into account the event's size, location and who will be there.
On-site testing enables the city to begin treating people who had been exposed to a toxin before they show symptoms and require hospitalization.
"It takes 10 times the resources to provide medical care for someone who is symptomatic," Lanzilotti said. "It takes about 10 times the doctors and nurses to provide care."
If the state Department of Health deems it appropriate, antibiotics or vaccinations could be given before people start getting sick, minimizing the strain on medical resources. "We would have a much easier job of treating people," Lanzilotti said. "It's preventing them from getting sick, as opposed to treating them after they got sick.
"Is it foolproof? No. Is it better than having nothing? Yes," Lanzilotti said.
Mayor Jeremy Harris was criticized in 2001 after a false-positive anthrax result with a field-test kit temporarily prompted officials to close Bethel Street, but the mayor defended the $15,000 kits, saying they were 95 percent effective.
The mobile DNA laboratory will allow the city to perform rapid DNA analyses on-site, instead of using the state lab, which would take several days, or borrowing the Navy's Pearl Harbor lab.