Timeline of biorisk

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Time period Development summary More details
Ancient history " Biological warfare dates back more than two thousand years. In the Trojan War, archers dipped their arrows into poison. Roman commanders poisoned the wells of besieged towns. Mongol attackers catapulted the bodies of plague victims over castle walls."[1]
14th century "Spread by rat-borne fleas, the black death killed three-quarters of Florence’s population, and more than half the population of Europe. In just five years, from 1346 to 1351, Europe’s population fell from eighty to thirty million people."[1]
16th century "An even higher death rate was visited on Native Americans after the arrival of Columbus in 1492. In the century after Europeans arrival in the Americas, measles, smallpox, cholera, influenza, and other diseases killed at least four-fifths of Native Americans.4 In some cases, entire communities were wiped out by the “Columbian Exchange.”"[1]
18th century "At the end of that century, English settlers arrived in Australia, bringing the same cocktail of diseases with which Europeans had infected Native Americans, and reduced the Indigenous population on that continent by at least four-fifths as well."[1]
20th century " During the 1950s and 1960s, the United States carried out an active bioweapons program, investigating yellow fever, typhus, and the plague."[2] In the 1970s and 1980s, while having signed the Biological Weapons Convention, the Soviet Union continue to secretly develop biological weapons.[1] During the 1980s, Saddam Hussein manages to produce over a hundred million gallons of biological weapons.[1]

Full timeline

Year Category Event type Details
6th century BC "Assyrians poisoned enemy wells with rye ergot. First known use of a biological toxin."[3]:p14
1763 "British soldiers give blankets infected with the smallpox virus to American Indians. Notable and documented use of virus against combatants."[3]:p14
1915 "Anton Dilger produces anthrax and glanders bacterium to infect horses intended for the warfront. Notable and documented use of bacteria against animals.[3]:p14
1918 "the 1918 influenza pandemic infected one-third of the world’s population, killing one in fifty people"[1]
1925 (June 17) "Delegates in Switzerland create a Geneva Protocol banning the use of chemical and bacteriological methods of warfare. First international effort to limit use of biologicals in warfare.[3]:p14
1932 "The Japanese army gives General Ishii control of three biological research centers, including one in Manchuria. Most despicable character in bioweapons history gets his start.[3]:p14
1934 "Great Britain begins taking steps toward establishing its own biological weapons research project. Allies start to develop a program.[3]:p14
1942 (July 15) "Anthrax tested on Gruinard Island against sheep. Allies’ first field test of bioweapon.[3]:p14
1942 (November) "British implore the United States to lead bioweapons production efforts; negotiations commence and President Roosevelt approves the program. Beginning of US bioweapons program.[3]:p14
1943 (Spring) "US bioweapons program begins its activities at Camp Detrick, Maryland. Implementation of plans to begin US bioweapons program.[3]:p14
1949 (May) "The US Army Chemical Corps sets up a Special Operations Division at Camp Detrick to perform field tests with bioweapons formulations. Tests conducted at the Pentagon show that biological weapons formulations are feasible for sabotage.[3]:p14
1950 "Navy warships spray the cities of Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, and San Francisco. Tests show that large-scale deployment of a bioweapon from the sea is feasible.[3]:p14
1953 "Conduct of the St. Jo Program stages mock anthrax attacks on St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Winnipeg using aerosol generators placed on top of cars. Tests show that large-scale deployment of a bioweapon from the land is feasible.[3]:p14
1955 "Operation Whitecoat uses human research volunteers to study the effects of biological agents on human volunteers. The operation will continue for the next 18 years and involve some 2200 people.[3]:p14
1957 "Operation Large Area Concept kicks off to test the release of aerosols from airplanes; the first experiment involves a swath from South Dakota to Minnesota and further tests cover areas from Ohio to Texas and Michigan to Kansas. Tests show that large-scale deployment of a bioweapon from the air is feasible; some of the test particles travel 1200miles.[3]:p15
1965 "government agents at what is now Reagan National Airport secretly sprayed harmless bacteria onto passengers."[1]
1969 (November 25) "Nixon announces that the United States will renounce the use of any form of deadly biological weapons that either kill or incapacitate. The end of an era in US offensive biological weapons research, production, and storage.[3]:p15
1972 (April 10) "The Biological Weapons Convention, which bans all bioweapons, is completed and opened for signature. Seventy-nine nations signed the treaty, including the Soviet Union.[3]:p15
1975 (March 26) "The Biological Weapons Convention officially goes into force; the US Senate also finally ratifies the 1925 Geneva Protocol. Political will to ban biological weapons on the international front.[3]:p16
1975 "the Symbionese Liberation Army was found in possession of technical manuals on how to produce bioweapons.[3]:p15
1978 "Injection as a means of delivering biological agents may also take place through the use of a syringe or other mechanical device. A primary example of this occurred in September 1978, when a Bulgarian dissident, Georgi Markov, received a lethal dose of ricin from the tip of an umbrella (Alibek and Handelman, 2000)."[3]:p15
1979 "Nearly 70 people die from an accidental release of anthrax spores in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk. The United States suspects that anthrax bacterial spores were accidentally released from a Soviet military biological facility.[3]:p15
1980 "A Red Army Faction safe house reportedly discovered in Paris included a laboratory containing quantities of botulinum toxin."[3]:p16
1984 "followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh contaminated salad bars with Salmonella bacteria in a small town in Oregon. It was the largest scale act of bioterrorism in US history. More than 750 cases of salmonellosis resulted from the salad bar contamination. It was later discovered that the Rajneeshees wanted to influence the local county elections. Cult members obtained the Salmonella strain through the mail from American Type Culture Collection and propagated the liquid cultures in their compound’s medical clinic.[3][3]:p16
1984 "The Rajneeshees contaminate food with Salmonella bacterium in a small town in Oregon to influence local elections. The first significant act of bioterrorism in the United States.[3]:p15
1989 "A Soviet defector from Biopreparat, Vladimir Pasechnik, reveals the existence of a continuing offensive biological weapons program in the Soviet Union. Evidence that the Soviet Union is violating the Biological Weapons Convention.[3]:p15
1989 "In Minnesota, four members of the Patriots Council, an antigovernment extremist group, were arrested in 1991 for plotting to kill a US marshal with ricin. The group planned to mix the homemade ricin with a chemical that speeds absorption (dimethylsulfoxide) and then smear it on the door handles of the marshal’s car. The plan was discovered and all four men were arrested and the first to be prosecuted under the US Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989.[3]:p15
1991 "In Minnesota, four members of the Patriots Council, an antigovernment extremist group, were arrested in 1991 for plotting to kill a US marshal with ricin. The group planned to mix the homemade ricin with a chemical that speeds absorption (dimethylsulfoxide) and then smear it on the door handles of the marshal’s car. The plan was discovered and all four men were arrested and the first to be prosecuted under the US Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989.[3]:p15
1992 (April) "Russian president Boris Yeltsin admits the 1979 outbreak was caused by the Soviet military but gives few details. An admonition that the Soviet Union operated an offensive biological warfare program in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention."[3]:p15
1993 (April) "Much has been made of the potential of aerosolized powders and respiratory droplets in factual and fictitious biothreat scenarios. The largest infectious disease outbreak in the history of the United States occurred in April 1993. The event was caused by an accidental waterborne contamination. The outbreak of cryptosporidiosis, which occurred in the greater Milwaukee area, was estimated to have caused more than 430,000 people to become ill with gastroenteritis among a population of 1.6million (MacKenzie et al., 1994). Approximately 4400 people were hospitalized and about 100 people died as a result of the outbreak."[3]:p15
1995 "In 1995 Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese doomsday cult, became infamous for an act of chemical terrorism when members released sarin gas into the Tokyo subway. What many people do not know about the group is that it developed and attempted to use biological agents (anthrax, Q fever, Ebola virus, and botulinum toxin) on at least 10 other occasions. Despite several releases, it was unsuccessful in its use of biologicals. This program is examined more thoroughly in chapter Case Studies."[3]:p15
2001 (June) Simulation "the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security ran the Dark Winter scenario, simulating a bioterrorist attack in which residents of Oklahoma City were deliberately infected with smallpox, which quickly spread across the country. Just a few months after the simulated attack took place, a real bioterrorist attack occurred: envelopes containing anthrax were mailed to media outlets and politicians’ offices, killing five people."[1]
2001 Fall "Envelopes filled with anthrax spores are sent to various media and political figures in the United States; 22 people, from Florida to Connecticut, are infected; 5 die. A national movement begins to prepare a citizenry against the threat of bioterrorism, which has now become a household word."[3]:p15
2003 "Letters containing ricin have been mailed to public officials from various people and places. Many perpetrators have been caught and convicted. Others remain at large. These small-scale incidents keep us mindful that some biological agents are easy to acquire and utilize in crimes and small-scale acts of terrorism."[3]:p15
2003 "several letters containing ricin were recovered from a mail-sorting center in Greenville, South Carolina. A note from someone calling themselves the “Fallen Angel” accompanied those letters."[3]:p15
2004 "ricin was sent to the office of Senator Bill Frist. Some federal investigators believe that this instance may be tied to the Fallen Angel, but no one has been identified for this biocrime or the 2003 incident."[3]:p15
2013 "ricin was sent to US President Barack Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A woman from Shreveport, Louisiana, was arrested for this biocrime and later convicted on several charges."
2013 "a letter containing ricin was sent to President Barack Obama, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, and Mississippi judge Sadie Holland. A Tupelo, Mississippi man was convicted of crimes related to these incidents and sentenced to 25 years in prison."
2014 "a Philadelphia man sent a romantic rival a scratch-and-sniff birthday card laced with ricin. In 2015 he was convicted on several charges related to the incident and subsequently received a sentence of 20–40 years in prison."
2019 (October) Simulation "In October 2019, the Hopkins center ran Event 201, simulating an outbreak of a novel coronavirus transmitted from bats to pigs to people. Originating in Brazil, the fictional CAPS virus went on to kill sixty-five million people. Within two months, the not-at-all-fictional COVID-19 virus made its way from bats to humans—perhaps via civets or pangolins—and swept from Wuhan, China, to every other country in the world."[1]
2020 According to Abrahm Lustgarten's How Climate Change Is Contributing to Skyrocketing Rates of Infectious Disease, each year, five new diseases emerge.[1][4]

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  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Leigh, Andrew (9 November 2021). What's the Worst That Could Happen?: Existential Risk and Extreme Politics. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-36661-8. 
  2. Details of this program are drawn from US Army, U.S. Army Activity in the U.S. Biological Warfare Programs, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: US Army, 1977). See also Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad, Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001).
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 3.29 3.30 3.31 3.32 3.33 Ryan, Jeffrey; Glarum, Jan (30 August 2011). Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Containing and Preventing Biological Threats. Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-08-056918-5. 
  4. Lustgarten, Abrahm. "How Climate Change Is Contributing to Skyrocketing Rates of Infectious Disease". ProPublica. Retrieved 29 October 2022.