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THE ENVIRONMENT IN THE NEWS - page 10 / 35

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    Coalition forces face little danger if Iraq uses chemical or biological  weapons against them, three UK experts believe.

            Explosives are much easier to use than CB weapons  Professor Alistair Hay

    They say the weapons would be largely ineffective against well-protected troops, if Iraq does possess them and decides to use them.

    Several think the risk of similar attacks in Western cities is also fairly low.

    But they believe American readiness to use non-lethal toxic agents like tear gas is dangerous.

    The three are among the UK's leading scientists in the field, and were speaking at a briefing at  the Royal Institution in London.

    They are Alistair Hay, professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University, Julian Perry Robinson, professor of science and technology policy research at the University of Sussex,  and Brian Spratt, professor of molecular microbiology at Imperial College London.

    Professor Hay said: "I'm far from clear whether Iraq would run the risk of losing what support it has by using CB weapons.

    Domestic threat

    "I'm unconvinced it would use them - if it does possess them in useable form."

    He said he would expect "minimal" coalition casualties if there were an Iraqi attack.

    Professor Spratt said anthrax could be controlled on the battlefield by troops with suitable  protection.

    "It's more of a concern in places like the UK," he said. "And the release in the US showed agents like that are weapons of mass destruction, and of mass disruption."

    He said anthrax headed the list of biological threats. Next was plague, while smallpox was "of huge concern".

    Professor Hay told BBC News Online: "You do have to take precautions against weapons like  these.

    "But if someone is going to use terror to spread panic in a city like London, there are far  simpler ways.

    "Explosives are much easier to use than CB weapons, which I'd put low down the list."

    Professor Perry Robinson said the quantity of many agents needed for a successful attack could be huge.

    "With VX gas, half a milligram is lethal," he said. "But the militarily significant amount you   need on a battlefield is one billion lethal doses.

    "You have to use a million doses to be sure of inflicting just one casualty - and that's about a  tonne of VX.

    Breaking the barriers

    "Modern, well-maintained gas masks and suits give very good protection. And once the  element of surprise has gone, the agent is effectively harmless."

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