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Expert Available to Comment on Dangerous Radioactive Substance Stolen in Mexico

Released: 12/4/2013 3:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Saint Louis University Medical Center
Contact Information

Available for logged-in reporters only

This morning, national media outlets reported that a dangerous radioactive substance had been stolen in Mexico that could potentially be used in manufacturing a dirty bomb. A Saint Louis University expert and former Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of Homeland Security, is available to answer questions about the threat that the theft poses to public health.

Alexander Garza, M.D., is associate dean for public health practice and associate professor of epidemiology at Saint Louis University.

He says:

"If the material was stolen by terrorists or if acquired by a terrorist organization, it could be used as a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) commonly referred to as a dirty bomb."

"A dirty bomb is not a nuclear weapon (such as an improvised nuclear device). It spreads radioactive material into the environment either by explosion, resulting in contamination, or by covert means without an explosive device.

Dirty bombs are much more of a psychological weapon than a weapon of mass destruction. They mainly kill by the explosion just like a conventional bomb. However the resulting radiological contamination of the environment is costly to remediate. It can sow fear into the population because people are afraid of an exposure the radioactive material as well as fear that other attacks may be coming."

Dr. Garza comes to SLU after service in the Federal Government. In August of 2009, Dr. Garza was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the US Senate as the Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where he served until April 2013. Dr. Garza led the health and security efforts for DHS, which included the health aspects of terrorism and natural disasters.

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