Mass casualties and health care following the release of toxic chemicals or radioactive material--contribution of modern biotechnology

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Dec;8(12):4521-49. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8124521. Epub 2011 Dec 7.


Catastrophic chemical or radiological events can cause thousands of casualties. Such disasters require triage procedures to identify the development of health consequences requiring medical intervention. Our objective is to analyze recent advancements in biotechnology for triage in mass emergency situations. In addition to identifying persons "at risk" of developing health problems, these technologies can aid in securing the unaffected or "worried well". We also highlight the need for public/private partnerships to engage in some of the underpinning sciences, such as patho-physiological mechanisms of chemical and radiological hazards, and for the necessary investment in the development of rapid assessment tools through identification of biochemical, molecular, and genetic biomarkers to predict health effects. For chemical agents, biomarkers of neurotoxicity, lung damage, and clinical and epidemiological databases are needed to assess acute and chronic effects of exposures. For radiological exposures, development of rapid, sensitive biomarkers using advanced biotechnologies are needed to sort exposed persons at risk of life-threatening effects from persons with long-term risk or no risk. The final implementation of rapid and portable diagnostics tools suitable for emergency care providers to guide triage and medical countermeasures use will need public support, since commercial incentives are lacking.

Keywords: biomarkers; biotechnology; chemical; diagnostic; mass casualties; radioactive; triage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biotechnology*
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Hazardous Substances / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Mass Casualty Incidents*
  • Radioactive Fallout*


  • Hazardous Substances
  • Radioactive Fallout