Confronted by a mounting anthrax scare, the Bush administration is taking steps to stop the spread of bioterrorism, increase homeland security and reassure a rattled public.

The Bush administration has asked Congress for $1.5 billion to stockpile emergency medicine — including 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine which is enough to inoculate every American against the disease. The funds also would be used to expand the capacity of health laboratories to deal with anthrax, allow the Food and Drug Administration to hire 410 more inspectors, labor specialists and other compliance experts, and allow the FDA in invest in new technology and scientific equipment to detect selected agents.

The actions come just days after a General Accounting Office report concluded that a fragmented federal food inspection system involving the Department of Agriculture, the FDA and 10 other agencies, is poorly equipped to detect and quickly respond to bioterrorism.

In addition to the request for funding, the following actions have been taken to help ensure the safety of the water and food supply.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency has issued advisories to chemical, pesticide and water companies urging them to take greater security precautions from locking doors to reviewing emergency-response plans to rechecking the backgrounds of employees and contractors.
  • The Energy Department has said it has developed an underground electronic “sniffer” that can detect toxic chemicals in municipal-water supplies without taking them to a lab for analysis.
  • Food industry executives have said they will tighten safeguards against tampering on grocery shelves.

The Seattle Times