Researchers worry that an underground network of illicit Botox suppliers would sell the underlying toxin to terrorists hell-bent on contaminating water or food supplies. The anti-wrinkle treatment has a miniscule amount of the lethal toxin, but the same organized crime syndicates making counterfeit Botox could sell the toxin to terrorists. An al-Qaeda training manual discovered in 2001 advocated the use of botulinum toxin in terrorist attacks.
A speck of toxin smaller than a grain of sand can kill a 150-pound adult. A biologist with a master’s degree and $2,000 worth of equipment could easily make a gram of pure toxin, an amount equal to the weight of a small paper clip but enough, in theory, to kill thousands of people.
Implications: The black market in a cosmetic treatment could lead to terrorists contaminating water or food supplies to create mass casualties. Presumably the counterfeiters would sell toxin to the highest bidder. “It is the only profit-making venture for terrorists that can also potentially yield a weapon of mass destruction,” said Kenneth Coleman, a biodefense expert. It would be expensive for the terrorists, and they’d have to figure out a delivery mechanism for slipping the toxin into water or food supplies.
Apparently, the U.S. government is just now discovering this problem. One remedy would be to close down the illicit Botox factories — perhaps in China and Chechnya — but that seems like an exercise in whack-a-mole. Could this lead to some sort of government regulation of the Botox market (and would that be effective or ineffective globally)?
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