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Author Topic: Survivalism 101: NBC Hazards  (Read 127 times)

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Offline Captain MalteseTopic starter

Survivalism 101: NBC Hazards
« on: November 27, 2018, 02:07:34 PM »
Survivalism 101 is meant to be a series of threads with various potentially useful survivalism & camping related topics. Instead of one gargantuan thread trying to cover everything these will attempt to be more focused. Feel free to add information or to ask questions. It's a forum thread, not a booklet!


It's 2018 not 1918, and the chances of war bringing upon us NBC (Nuclear/Biological/Chemical) hazards are practically zero. Unless you live in Syria. Or Iraq. Or a western country's major city which is considered a high priority target for terrorists. As I said, the chances are practically zero.

What IS a real threat is however neither war nor terrorism but the possibility of an accident involving such elements. Nuclear accidents in one of the world's hundreds of reactors or the about 6000(?) nuclear warheads and submarines still being kept ticking. Can't happen? I can still measure remains of Chernobyl downfall on my lawn if I have the tools for the job. It's not a major concern though. Chemical? Beside the remains of mustard gas and assorted similar goodies being buried into the ground or dumped into the sea during and after WW2, the real threat comes from the chemical factories near some of our neighborhoods and from the big trucks and railways driving THROUGH our neighborhood. Plus the gas pipelines under our feet. All it takes is an accident at the wrong time and place. I could spend all day giving examples of when and where this actually has happened. But the Bhopal incident should suffice. 3700-8000 dead, and 500.000+ injured. Also remember that oil is also a chemical. The math gets scary there, but we can surely agree that the C for Chemical is an actual issue. Also some other chemical threats are depressingly relevant: tear gas, the governments legal way to spread pain fast and wide. There's also pepper spray, and dust of various hurtful types. As for the B for Biological this effectively mean pandemics; Plague, Ebola, H1N1... it is a realistic threat all right

From here I intend to spend at least a post on each of the big letters plus maybe some specific cases. And a look at the more popular defense methods available to a civilian - gas masks, protective suits, cleansing methods and so on. Nothing you'll need an investment plan, specialist training or security clearance for.

Offline Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: Survivalism 101: NBC Hazards
« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2018, 11:27:03 AM »

Ah yes. N for Nuclear. Truly humanity's most advanced technological achievement; our own Scourge. Reality check: There are thousands of things more likely to kill us in our everyday life than something nuclear related, including being flattened by falling safes and being in fatal accidents involving armadillos. But the threat is still real enough that it has been hanging over the world since 1945. Nuclear weapons attempt to guard the world peace. Nuclear reactors deliver some or all of the electricity coming into our homes. Unmarked trucks drive barrels of radioactive waste through our suburbias. If you read this you are part of the nuclear world.

There are four ways you can in theory be exposed to radioactivity without actually working with it.
- Nuclear bomb explosion, by war or accident.
- Reactor blowout or dirty bomb, spreading radioactive dust over a large area.
- Contamination through water or earth
- Contaminated objects.

Nuclear bomb explosion
Can't happen, the world powers would never stoop that low, except it has happened twice already. Also there were a series of small nuclear bomb tests done in the 1950s on soldiers in USA and other countries to learn more about the effect of such weapons and many of those soldiers paid a high price for what was learned. The vast majority of those people had no idea what they were exposed to before it was too late.

The essence of a nuclear reaction is as simple as two bits of radioactive material, let us say match box size, are moved to touch each other physically. This causes an atomic reaction and spreads radiation to and into the surroundings. If you do this by your hands, as happened at least once to known nuclear scientists, your hands and body get a blast of waves and your hands are up for amputation, if you live long enough for that. The radioactivity kills the cells and everything else biological where they reach. A nuclear bomb consists of more and highly potent radioactive matter, and the two pieces are hurled against each other at high speed by high explosive to not only create a radioactive blast but a fission explosion.

Nuclear bombs are hideously expensive. That is good. The ones aimed at your country will be aimed at priority targets like valuable infrastructure or threatening military installations. There are however a lot of those, which is bad. If you feel masochistic you can google for a map over strike zones. Personally I live in a rural area far from the nearest city, but about ten miles as the crow flies from a major NATO storage. That's incentive for maintaining an interest.

I am not going to say much on the effect of being anywhere near the direct blast of a nuclear explosion. Even if you are brought to a hospital directly and treated by the best doctors of the world your chances of survival are slim and there is nothing I can write that can be helpful. If you don't need to eat any more today you can google Hisashi Ouchi, a victim of direct exposure in a Japanese nuclear facility. Rarely has death been a more merciful outcome. However, if you are sufficiently under ground or behind solid walls and not too close your chances of survival immediately improve.

Reactor blowout or dirty bomb
A dirty bomb is a fairly conventional bomb like the bigger ones we have seen terrorists deliver in the last few years; all the explosives you can put into a truck, park in a public area and detonate from a safe distance. It is depressingly easy to do and it has been so since 1880, we just have not had the maniacs to go through with it before now. This goes from being a conventional, if makeshift bomb to a dirty bomb when a relatively small amount of highly radioactive dust - let's say a kilogram - is put on top of it. When the conventional part explodes it spreads the radioactive dust up into the air. If the blast demolished a cityblock, the contamination could spread over ten. Or twenty. This event has yet to actually happen and it might not ever, because one of President Obamas least known programs during his reign was an international sweep for all the enrichened reactive matter stored across the world; typically remains of scientific or military projects or not so well stored containers from older reactors. Surely there is a bigger story to be told about this program but at least we know it has gotten rather harder for anonymous customers with suitcases full of money to just go buy the stuff. Good.

A failing reactor is a different story. Here we have a number of incidents of it actually happening, although the prize case is of course Chernobyl. And here there are plenty of data if one want them; the number of dead and directly injured, the somewhat hazier long term effects on people and on the affected nature. This was an incident that happened in Ukraine and yet parts of Europe and Scandinavia - including where I live - were affected directly by the radioactive dust that spread on winds and skies.

So it is the dust. Imagine a handful of burning embers that you cannot actually see or feel the heat of. You would hold it in your hand for a while if you was looking elsewhere and did not see what the burn was doing to your hand. Radioactive dust is on the wind and on the surroundings, and you will not see it even when it lands in your hair and on your skin and clothes. In my army days we were issued with two items to deal with it. A standard multipurpose filter gas mask whose most important job was to stop us from inhaling such dust, and a brush. A perfectly basic clothes brush. Should a nuke happen we were to fold up the hood on our field uniforms and put on our mittens, and then brush our uniform. For higher priority soldiers there was an actual rubber suit of sorts including rubber mittens and boots and it would have been more helpful to keep the dust away.

Brushing helps, for the moment. But it does not remove all the dust, especially not if there is water in the mix too. Once you make it out of the hot zone you are up for a serious body wash and the discarding of every item on your body. That includes jewelry and other prized items.

Cleansing must wait until you are outside. Other things that must wait are drinking and eating and licking your lips and drying your eyes. You know how dust gets everywhere and radioactive dust is even worse in than out. It is like a cell cure for cancer, only without the slightest control. All your body openings are danger zones here, including your ass and genitalia. It will not help that your water or food has been kept locked and out of radiation's way, it's the bit where you open your mouth that is the problem.

Once you are outside and have been externally decontaminated, there are not a lot of things that can be done between full clinical treatment and home remedies. I don't know about USA but here in Norway the county emergency boards are issued with iodine pills to hand out to the population if we get another and worse radiation accident to deal with. Its purpose is to protect the thyroid gland and help your system deal with (very) small amounts of ingested radiation.

Contamination through water or earth
If you live in an area where there has been tests, or radioactive matter has been mined, or near a reactor, or where there has been radioactive downfall, there is a chance of small contamination in your water. If there is big contamination you WILL already know it by now. Very small contamination can show up on tests but it is probably not going to affect anyone unless more is added gradually to it.

We return to Chernobyl. The world wondered what it would be like once the dust settled down. We know by know. The local nature has recovered and there are even bigger animals like wolves and deer and bear who seem to thrive in the absence of humans. Even a few people still live there, but only a handful. They refused to leave their homes and I suspect the government let them stay so they could study the effects. Some have died, and the rest have cancer in various levels. The entire area is still closed off. They managed to finish putting a concrete dome over the reactor block itself only a short while ago and some hardy tourists and scientists have been allowed in briefly at times with govt license, with full protective suits and geiger counters. But based on what we know of Chernobyl and Nagasaki and Hiroshima, even nuclear blasted land does come back to life and become inhabitable again. It just takes a few generations.

Contaminated objects
Wrapping it up with an insidious hazard. Direct radiation from a blast also makes nearby objects contaminated. The denser the object the more contamination it can contain, so a piece of metal can get really loaded. Actual radioactive matter too, of course. We know from the last few decades that there was some smuggling of radioactive matter from the Soviet Union; some times little lumps or bits hidden on the body of the smuggler. We know it because some of these smugglers were brought to hospitals where these fragments were literally burning themselves into their bodies. They probably improved on their smuggling later on by encasing the matter in thick lead encasings. Lead, being of very high density, shields well against minor radioactivity. But Customs police are not forthcoming on such details any more.

One vicious version of this comes from the Yugoslavian War and the invasion of Iraq, where US tanks and artillery and planes used shells and bombs containing depleted uranium as part of the explosive head. It makes a better bang, surely. But a side effect is spreading this radioactive matter all over the place. Being shiny, it has been found possessed by children and others. USA and UK are the only ones using depleted uranium ammo. Officially. Something to think about if you hanker for theater made souvenirs.

Hospitals use small amounts of radioactive matter in cancer treatment in particular. They must also store the used stuff. These days they are required to keep this in proper and locked safes, but it was not always so. Since this is costly stuff to recycle it has some times been allowed to build up in the storage room, and control is not always perfect. There is at least one known case of a hospital cache being stolen because it was stored like it was expensive, and the thieves had no idea what they had taken so they played with it. This story did not end well.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2018, 11:54:23 AM by Captain Maltese »

Offline midnightblack

Re: Survivalism 101: NBC Hazards
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2018, 09:21:26 PM »

There are four ways you can in theory be exposed to radioactivity without actually working with it.
- Nuclear bomb explosion, by war or accident.
- Reactor blowout or dirty bomb, spreading radioactive dust over a large area.
- Contamination through water or earth
- Contaminated objects.

The chances for any of that happening to your average Elliquiyian or other human being in 2019 is so low it's not really worth stressing over. If you do want to worry about nuclear hazards, I'd say you're at a far greater risk of developing lung cancer while relaxing at home due to Earth's natural emission of Radon.

Offline Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: Survivalism 101: NBC Hazards
« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2018, 05:38:31 AM »
The chances for any of that happening to your average Elliquiyian or other human being in 2019 is so low it's not really worth stressing over. If you do want to worry about nuclear hazards, I'd say you're at a far greater risk of developing lung cancer while relaxing at home due to Earth's natural emission of Radon.

Good point about the Radon gas - I was not aware it is a nuclear hazard as well. I'll either update the post above or make a separate one. Now I think of it there's also the radioactive glass that used to be popular in homes, and radioactive toy sets. Esoteric but hey, that happened.

Offline midnightblack

Re: Survivalism 101: NBC Hazards
« Reply #4 on: November 30, 2018, 03:09:33 AM »
Back when radioactivity was first discovered, right at the end of the XIXth century, people thought it was a cool thing (well, it actually is, but they didn't understand much about it then). For a while it was a fashionable marketing topic, though I wouldn't know how successful it was in selling radioactive stuff.

The natural occurrence of Radon is due to the radioactivity of the Earth, and the element itself is radioactive (which is the reason it's harmful in the first place), so that's why it's a nuclear hazard. Again, in my opinion a much more dangerous one that anything else that was previously listed, as those things are generally extremely well-regulated in developed countries and it's extremely unlikely for the average citizen to ever get in contact with them or be under such threats.

Offline Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: Survivalism 101: NBC Hazards
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2018, 01:44:20 PM »
Okay, I will give this a shot. Even if I am going even further out on a limb thank usual. I'll be using your info for some of this midnightblack; hope you don't mind.


Radon gas is a right bastard. It is a natural gas that can seep from the ground under the right geological conditions and be trapped into hollow spaces such as buildings. There is no visual, no taste, no smell, no reaction to flame; you'll need a gas measuring tool to even get its presence confirmed. The two parts that matter to us is that 1) this gas is slightly radioactive and 2) it is pretty much the densest gas we know about. You can breathe, you can light candles and have lightbulbs and everything electric going. So the only real problem is that if you breathe this stuff long enough, which you will if it is seeping into your homes in a continuous stream, your lungs start reacting to the radioactivity. Radon gas can also leave residue on perfectly normal dust if given time, which mean the normal dust can become contaminated in itself.

If you actually KNOW there is radon gas in a place then the immediate solution is to put on a gas mask. Since it is a very dense gas a standard gas mask will filter the gas out of the air before you breathe it.

Detection of gas can be done by radon gas meters; these can be bought online for a range of prices. Or you can hire a specialist; it is possible that your local county will be able offer services. I wish I could say there is an easy fix for the house once radon gas has been detected but this gas comes from deep below the ground. There might have to be work down to the foundation to the house to lead this gas seepage away. Another effective approach is to make the air circulation through the house more effective. The gas want out; it's just more sluggish than others.

Yes, radon gas is a threat - the authorities consider it second only to smoking as a cause of lung cancer. If anyone in your home have had that grave illness and they (or someone they have been living with ) have not been smoking like a furnace then a radon gas test would be a reasonable thing to do. Also if the local area have had a number of lung cancer cases.


A few quick words on radioactive objects at home.

- uranium glass was considered a step forward in glass design in the 1920s when radioactive gas was added during the glass blowing process. This gave bright illuminecent colors. Since the uranium was only weakly radioactive the objects are, as far as I know, not actually a danger to the beholders. Uranium was definitely off the market after WW2 but now the technique is legal again and new objects are being made.

- radioactive toys: Back when science was still a fun game for kids and radioactivity was really exciting, there were a few toys and sets put on the market that actually included radioactive objects. Behold: Gilbert's Atomic Energy Lab. It included a geiger counter and four jars of uranium variants, and is today informally known as the most dangerous children's toy of all time.


Rounding this off with the story about the Radioactive Boy Scout. David Charles Hahn, a 17 year old boy scout, on a bright day in 1994 decided to build his own nuclear reactor. In his parents' shed. He partially succeeded. The only protection he used was a sheet of lead as he enrichened the plutonium. Fortunately he was caught before something really went bang but it is an amazing story. If anything it is a reminder of just how much radioactive material we have in our everyday surroundings.

Offline Captain MalteseTopic starter

Re: Survivalism 101: NBC Hazards
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2018, 11:31:22 AM »

B in NBC stands for Biohazard. My very least favorite threat to the world as we know it. For now, let's simply define this as something of organic nature that is capable of damaging or infecting other things of organic nature. Micro-organisms like bacteria and viruses, but also other cell structures.

Nuclear and chemical threats exist, but biohazards are something we face every day we meet other people. Bacteria from people we touch or even just their belongings, viruses which fly through the air and give us coughs and flu and worse - we barely notice it most of the time because our genetic structures have had so much practice dealing with it. In certain places this goes down a lot worse, for lack of general cleanliness or access to clean water. Cultural practices can also be a vital factor. The list of viruses killing people if not treated in time is long as an arm, and that is just the last few decades of human history. Cholera, typhoia, h1vn, ebola, aids, swine flu - some of this has a 90% mortality rate if not treated in time. The Black Plague decimated the human population by 20%, including up to about 60% of Europe and Eurasia at the time. In the emerging USA the Native American population was ravaged by the new illnesses they were exposed to by the immigrants, including smallpox and influenca which laid entire cities in their graves. On a personal note, I lost an uncle to tuberchulosis.

There are four commonly defined levels of biohazard. This is a brief version.
Level 1: Minor viruses and bacterias that can infect you but rarely do, and if they do they don't do you much harm. You can work with infected material if you have gloves and goggles.
Level 2: Stuff that infects more easily and will make you sick, like salmonella, but won't normally kill you. Requires full body protection, although plastic overclothes will suffice.
Level 3: Stuff that is capable of killing, but is treatable. Biohazard suit with a gas mask.
Level 4: Stuff that is capable of killing and is not treatable. Biohazard suit with closed environment breathing.

Treatment of those infected is a job for medical personnel and usually involves antidotes. Of antidotes for organic illnesses there isn't much useful to know for the commoner, other than the antidote in itself is a living micro-organism and must be kept cold to survive for long. It is also normally a derivative of the illness itself, that combats the enemy within the body but cannot be transmitted to other people.

Pandemics normally start within a throng of people who share the same water source or have an insufficient sewer system, with a limited availablility of medical personell and facilities. For instance there is currently yet another Ebola outbreak in Congo which is well worth studying closer later on, but for now it suffices to note that it is apparently not spreading outside the local villages where it was found. If you read this forum you are most likely living relatively comfortably in a first world country with a national medical service capable of dealing with a pandemic in the forms we have seen in the last century so it might seem like we are fairly safe. For now. The thing is, the Black Plague about 700 years ago - the one killing 20% of the planet population - spread by a speed of about 3 miles per day. That's the day speed of people walking or driving a cart with a horse or ox. Today we have cars, trains, ships, planes... an outbreak in nearly any capital of the world that does not show telltale signs like acute fever, could spread worldwide to start new local outbreaks within 24 hours. There just isn't any system capable of stopping it from spreading, until we know what to look for and have a way to look for it with. 700 years ago there were possibly 500 million people on the planet. Today we are 8 billion. 20 years from now, it could be 16. The cities are just getting bigger and more crowded. But maybe we will be lucky?

We did learn a few things from the Black Plague though. One thing that was invented or at least had its phrase coined, is quarantine. Quarantine literally means 40 Days. Arriving travelers and ship crews were stopped on arrival and put into isolation, in cells or their own ships or what was available, and were only left out after 40 days. Provided they were still alive, and showed no signs of illness. To this day we hurry to isolate the possibly infected, although rarely as much as 40 days - we can tell incubation time to the closest hour for the known diseases today.

In a survival scenario then, what can you do?

- Isolate. Not the people around you, but yourself. Leave town, or at least stay inhouse. Going to a store or a doctor is vital but they are also the places where you are most likely to be infected. Same with pharmacies.

- Protect. Germs mostly spread by coughing or touching. They can't live for many seconds in the air but a cough sends a small spray into the air and may reach someone else. That said, a simple dust mask or a scarf covering your mouth and nose will improve your chances at once. It will however not protect your eyes, ears and skin. Goggles, a hood and long gloves will also help a lot.

- Cleanse. Virus and bacteria are easily killed in the open; even the fanciest biohazard units rely on cleaning with a water and bleach mixture. This is best used on plastic and rubber cloth items as bleach is pretty hard on skin and most fabrics. But there's warm water and generous amounts of soap, and alcohol-based hand rub.

- Treat food and water with care. Germs love to ride on grocery food. Everything not coming out of a can, like fruit and vegetables, should be cleaned before eaten. Water from the tap should be avoided. For many this will not be a new habit and in any case you are already more or less immune to the minor viruses we are surrounded with on a daily basis. No need to grow a brand new paranoia. In a pandemic this takes on an entirely new priority. Keep in mind that it is not just what lurks in the drinking water. The Legionaire illness we had a few outbreaks of a few years ago, turned out to have as its source the hot water system of hotels. The temperature in the tanks fell by just a few degrees and went from killing germs to farming them. Needless to say precautions have been taken since, which is why you risk being scalded like a pig in hotel showers. In normal tap water there is supposed to be a trace element of fluoride or other chemicals meant to kill off any micro-organisms getting inside the system. Supposed to. Check out the city of Flint's water distribution system's history for a counterexample. That said, if you HAVE to rely on tap water then cooking it for about 20 minutes should kill off anything living in it.

- Hands off. If you - provided you are not a medical worker - have to touch someone infected or even dead, then you cannot touch them with your hands no matter how gentle you wish to be. Viruses spread through liquid, not just coughing but also sweat and blood. This goes for a fresh corpse as well; the body may be dead but the virus may still be alive in some of the liquids. In the absence of rubber gloves you can improvise by wrapping your hands into several plastic bags. As a countersample, consider how Ebola spreads in Africa: some local traditions dictate that a dead person is tended to and cleaned by the entire family. In the worst cases this obliterates every family member.


Wrapping this up, there's little you can do yourself if you have actually been infected of a pandemic but seek professional help at once. Drinking a lot will perhaps help on the fever but it's just a symptom. Some very basic gear will help a little but your best chance will lie in avoiding getting infected.