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Biological Hazards

Biological Hazards UNISDR definition:

Processes of organic origin or those conveyed by biological vectors, including exposure to pathogenic micro-organisms, toxins and bioactive substances, which may cause the loss of life or injury, property damage, social and economic disruption or environmental degradation.

Description and examples

The biological element of this hazard can in many cases occur naturally in the environment however they most often impact human populations when they are introduced or favorable conditions exist.

Biological substances are classified as hazardous due to toxicity.  Toxicity is one of four factors used to classify hazardous wastes and refers to the degree of damage the substance can do to a living organism i.e. the  effect on the whole organism.

Common examples of biological hazards include:

  • Malaria, Dengue fever
  • Meningitis, influenza
  • Pest infestations
  • Zoonoses - HIV, H5N1 virus (Bird flu), H1N1 (Swine Flu),  the plague, Anthrax, Cholera, Leptospirosis
  • Medical wastes - Used needles, medication that has expired etc.

 

Symbol:

This is the internationally accepted symbol for a biologically hazardous substance. It serves as a symbolic warning to individuals to avoid or handle with care vulnerability to Biological Hazards

A society or community can be seen as vulnerable to biological hazards because of the following:

  • Poor sanitation practices: indiscriminate dumping, polluting of drainage channels and sewers, consumption of contaminated water or food etc.
  • Hospitals and medical centres dispose of medical wastes improperly
  • Individuals do not practice safe sex or have generally poor hygiene
  • Limited border control and protection
  • Lack of understanding of the risks and causes of the hazards
  • Limited or non-existent hazard response capabilities i.e. trained and well equipped personnel who know how to respond to a biologically hazardous incident.
  • Hospitals have limited or non-existent quarantine capabilities to control the spread of diseases or treat affected persons.
  • Limited access to vaccines that prevent the spread
  • No known cure or vaccine for biological agents
  • Civil unrest, malicious intent or terrorist activity existing the country

 

How to reduce vulnerability

The population or relevant authority of Trinidad and Tobago can reduce its vulnerability to biological hazards by ensuring the following are achieved:

  • There are strict penalties for poor sanitation and that it is promoted extensively in public education campaigns
  • Ensure that hospitals follow standard procedures for disposal of medical
  • Public education campaigns should promote safe sex practices and individuals should take steps to protect themselves and others.
  • Border controls should be vigilant for any potential threats. This can be achieved through training of personnel.
  • Existing HAZMAT capabilities should be strengthened to ensure that they are prepared for potential threats and are drilled in response
  • Improved mechanisms for obtaining sufficient vaccines when they are developed
  • Monitoring of groups and individuals pose a potential threat.

In March 2010 the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago carried out a simulation exercise for a bio-terrorism incident; ‘Exercise Bio-Shield’. This exercise attempted to identify gaps in the national response to biological attacks and determine ways to strengthen this mechanism. The relevant agencies including the ODPM also identified strategies for mitigating 

 

Relevant legislation

Biological toxins and weapons Bill 2009

Further Reading:

 

 

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