BP to blame in explosion, internal documents show

AP

The secret we all knew: BP cut corners days before platform explosion.

BP made a series of money-saving shortcuts and blunders that dramatically increased the danger of a destructive oil spill in a well that an engineer ominously described as a “nightmare” just six days before the blowout, according to documents released Monday that provide new insight into the causes of the disaster.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee released dozens of internal documents that outline several problems on the deep-sea rig in the days and weeks before the April 20 explosion that set in motion the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Investigators found that BP was badly behind schedule on the project and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars with each passing day, and responded by cutting corners in the well design, cementing and drilling mud efforts and the installation of key safety devices.

“Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense. If this is what happened, BP’s carelessness and complacency have inflicted a heavy toll on the Gulf, its inhabitants, and the workers on the rig,” said Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Bart Stupak.

The missteps emerged on the same day that President Barack Obama made his fourth visit to the Gulf, where he sought to assure beleaguered residents that the government will “leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before.”

Obama’s two-day trip to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida represents his latest attempt to persevere through a crisis that has served as an important early test of his presidency. The visit coincides with a national address from the Oval Office on Tuesday night in which he will announce new steps to restore the Gulf Coast ecosystem, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the president’s announcements.

“I can’t promise folks … that the oil will be cleaned up overnight. It will not be,” Obama said after encouraging workers in hard hats as they hosed off and repaired oil-blocking boom. “It’s going to be painful for a lot of folks.”

But, he said, “things are going to return to normal.”

The breached well has dumped as much as 114 million gallons of oil into the Gulf under the worst-case scenario described by scientists — a rate of more than 2 million a day. BP has collected 5.6 million gallons of oil through its latest containment cap on top of the well, or about 630,000 gallons per day.

But BP believes it will see considerable improvements in the next two weeks. The company said Monday that it could trap a maximum of roughly 2.2 million gallons of oil each day by the end of June as it deploys additional containment efforts, including a system that could start burning off vast quantities as early as Tuesday. That would more than triple the amount of oil it is currently capturing — and be a huge relief for those trying to keep it from hitting the shore.

“It would be a game changer,” said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mark Boivin, deputy director for near-shore operations at a command center in Mobile. He works with a team that coordinates the efforts of roughly 80 skimming boats gathering oil off the coast.

Still, BP warned its containment efforts could face problems if hoses or pipes clog and engineers struggle to run the complicated collection system. Early efforts at the bottom of the Gulf failed to capture oil.

Meanwhile, congressional investigators have identified several mistakes by BP in the weeks leading up to the disaster as it fell way behind on drilling the well.

BP started drilling in October, only to have the rig damaged by Hurricane Ida in early November. The company switched to a new rig, the Deepwater Horizon, and resumed drilling on Feb. 6. The rig was 43 days late for its next drilling location by the time it exploded April 20, costing BP at least $500,000 each day it was overdue, congressional documents show.

As BP found itself in a frantic race against time to get the job done, engineers took several time-saving measures, according to congressional investigators.

In the design of the well, the company apparently chose a riskier option among two possibilities to provide a barrier to the flow of gas in space surrounding steel tubes in the well, documents and internal e-mails show. The decision saved BP $7 million to $10 million; the original cost estimate for the well was about $96 million.

In an e-mail, BP engineer Brian Morel told a fellow employee that the company is likely to make last-minute changes in the well.

“We could be running it in 2-3 days, so need a relative quick response. Sorry for the late notice, this has been nightmare well which has everyone all over the place,” Morel wrote.

The e-mail chain culminated with the following message by another worker: “This has been a crazy well for sure.”

BP also apparently rejected advice of a subcontractor, Halliburton Inc., in preparing for a cementing job to close up the well. BP rejected Halliburton’s recommendation to use 21 “centralizers” to make sure the casing ran down the center of the well bore. Instead, BP used six centralizers.

In an e-mail on April 16, a BP official involved in the decision explained: “It will take 10 hours to install them. I do not like this.” Later that day, another official recognized the risks of proceeding with insufficient centralizers but commented: “Who cares, it’s done, end of story, will probably be fine.”

The lawmakers also said BP also decided against a nine- to 12-hour procedure known as a “cement bond log” that would have tested the integrity of the cement. A team from Schlumberger, an oil services firm, was on board the rig, but BP sent the team home on a regularly scheduled helicopter flight the morning of April 20.

Less than 12 hours later, the rig exploded.

BP also failed to fully circulate drilling mud, a 12-hour procedure that could have helped detect gas pockets that later shot up the well and exploded on the drilling rig.

Asked about the details disclosed from the investigation, BP spokesman Mark Proegler said the company’s main focus right now is on the response and stopping the flow of oil. “It would be inappropriate for us to comment while an investigation is ongoing,” Proegler told AP. BP executives including CEO Tony Hayward will be questioned by Congress on Thursday.

The letter from Waxman and Stupak noted at least five questionable decisions BP made before the explosion, and was supplemented by 61 footnotes and dozens of documents.

“The common feature of these five decisions is that they posed a trade-off between cost and well safety,” said Waxman and Stupak. Waxman, D-Calif., chairs the energy panel while Stupak, D-Mich., heads a subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

British Petroleum Disaster: An Insider’s Account

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | JUNE 13, 2010

As The Real Agenda has reported, the Gulf of Mexico’s oil spill goes beyond a few thousand gallons a day and chemical dispersants.

Oil industry insiders who have revealed first-hand information that could make the manliest human being tremble like jello.  The most prominent of these insiders, Pastor Lindsey Williams, who worked closely with heads of the oil industry for several years, appeared on talk radio to share his testimony on what is really going on in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  The details are neither easy nor pleasant to understand.

Williams’ account begins with what a former oil industry CEO told him with regard to the Deep Water Horizon disaster.  According to him, the reason for the oil disaster was that BP may have drilled into something known as a batholith, which is a gigantic well usually filled with magma, but that this time seemed to be full of crude.  After drilling into the chamber, the pressure was so high that the Deepwater Horizon’s platform and its structure, weren’t able to withstand it causing the explosion and the consequent disaster.  Why didn’t the platform sustain the pressure generated from the crude coming out?  Pressures experienced after drilling an oil well vary, but maximum numbers usually hit 1500 pounds of pressure per square inch.  In the case of the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, the pressure reached up to 70,000 pounds of natural pressure per square inch.  Williams said: “No structure built by man could have withstood such force.”  Does this mean the explosion was an accident?  Not necessarily.  As we have reported, Deepwater Horizon workers said in their testimony that BP’s heads knew of the lack of capacity the platform had to take on the well’s pressure, but forced the workers to continue the drilling process.  He added that the kind of oil contained in the gigantic well is not of the fossil type, but of another one known as Abiotic oil.  This oil is produced during chemical processes, deep down into the Earth’s core.  Williams said some of the most important oil deposits in the world are replenishing themselves through this process and therefore the peak oil idea is false.  On this side topic, Pastor Williams is supported by what can be called the Russian oil rush.  In the last few years, Russia has dug at least three oil wells such as the one apparently found in the Gulf of Mexico down to depths of 20,000 to 30,000 feet into the ground.  Other projects of the sort are located closer to the United States than anyone could think.  Just as Russia dug such deep wells on land, the United States granted BP permission to dig a 5,000 feet deep well in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Big mistake says Williams.  The fact the drilling was being done from a floating platform, only stabilized by propellers, may have played a determinant role on what happened next.

During the interview, Williams said that two sources from British Petroleum confirmed that not only had the company gone down 5,000 feet to the sea floor through sea water, but had drilled 25,000 feet into the sea bed down to the Earth’s crust.  His sources also confirmed that 3 hours before the explosion, BP had sent executives, geologists and other personnel to the region in order to witnessed what the result of the drilling would be.  Williams emphasized that the explosion was not done on purpose, but that it was all an accident due to the unexpected pressure that came together with the abiotic oil.  “The pressure was so great that no human manufactured device could have stopped the flow,” said Williams.  He also confirmed through his BP sources the allegation that BP high-ups collaborated in a way with the accident.  “A platform worker told the foreman that the fail safe valve was broken and needed to be replaced, but the foreman replied there was no time for that.”

Another of Mr. Williams’ revelations was that the leak of crude oil from the sea bed of the Gulf of Mexico is not spewing thousands or hundreds of thousands of gallons a day, but millions of gallons a day.  He said his oil industry source confirm what other independent sources have claimed: “that the oil spill is letting out between 4 and 5 million gallons of crude a day.”  The explosion the Pastor said during an interview on the Alex Jones Show, caused the sea bed to turn unstable, and that is why there are more than a few leaks down there.  Williams was told there were oil leaks as far as 20 miles away from the location where the Deepwater Horizon structure once stood.  He was fast to address one of the options some people have suggested as a solution to end the oil leak: To nuke the place in order to stop the crude from coming into the Gulf’s waters.  He said his source confessed this may be the only option to stop the disaster once and for all, but that given the degree of difficulty of such operation, there was a big enough chance the explosion of a nuclear device would make the problem worse.  If not done correctly and precisely, the explosion could further destabilize the well and cause a major collapse that would release greater amounts of oil which could not be stopped.

How does Mr. Williams knows this?  As mentioned before, his source, a former oil industry Chief Executive Officer, provided him with this and other information for the past few years.  Why should we believe what he says?  His track record has been immaculate so far.  Pastor Williams appeared on radio shows several times detailing -beforehand- the rise and fall of oil prices, the devaluation of the dollar, the food crisis, and the fake oil scarcity agenda the oil industry has planted in the public’s mind.  All of this before it happened.

birds

Marine life, birds and humans will have to live with the consequences of the spill for years to come.

One of the questions raised during the interview was what else besides the oil is coming out of the oil gushers?  At the beginning of the disaster, it was thought the oil was accompanied by mud only, but now, just as the numbers of the leak have changed, the account of what is flowing into the ocean along with the crude has also changed.  It seems the oil leak is not the biggest problem at hand.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed the existence of multiple plumes on the sea floor and these very plumes are releasing toxic gases that are ultimately the greatest danger for marine and human life.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed NOAA’s findings after carrying out independent tests of the underwater plumes.

According to the EPA report, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)are being emitted from the bottom of the ocean in amounts never seen before.  Below is the transcript of the report where it cites the VOC’s present, the levels at which they are safe for humans, and the amounts that were detected in the studies the EPA performed.  The

1. Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) emitted at a rate of 1,200 parts per billion(ppb) into the water and the air afterwards, once it surfaces.  Levels considered “safe” for humans round 5-10 ppb;

2. Benzene (C6H6) emitted at a rate of 3,000 ppb.  Human “safe” levels are said to be around 0-4 ppb

3. Methylene Chloride or dichloromethane CH2Cl2, emitted at a rate of 3,400 ppb.  Human tolerance is established to levels below 61 ppb.

Other gases cited during the interview as being emitted from the spill include vanadium, which according to our research is, in its pure form, a greyish silvery, soft and ductile metal used as an alloy in the manufacturing of cars.  According to the Mineral Information Institute, “it is found in magnetite (iron oxide) deposits that are also very rich in the element titanium. It is also found in bauxite (aluminum ore), rocks with high concentrations of phosphorous-containing minerals, and sandstones that have high uranium content.” It has 2 isotopes that occur naturally.  One of the isotopes is stable and one is radioactive.

The emission of these gases into the water and later into the air people breathe indeed confirms a nefarious slow-paced genocide of marine life and human life.  If exposure to low levels of benzene causes dizziness, and organ failure, imagine what it is doing and what it will do to people exposed to it at the concentration levels read by the studies made by the EPA.  Deformities, cancer, respiratory problems are just a few of the problems people will face in the short and long run due to exposure to benzene, hydrogen sulfide, methylene chloride and who knows what else is coming out of deep beneath the sea floor.  Suddenly, the disaster seems to move from ecological and marine  to the very survival of the people who leave on the coast of Louisiana, Florida, and possibly the whole East Coast of the United States.

To all this we can add, as the media has reported, that Goldman Sachs sold 44 percent of its BP stock just three days before the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon platform.  Additionally, Tony Hayward -BP’s CEO- also sold a third of his own shares right before the accident occurred for a total of 1.4 million pounds.  In the meantime, fishers and other workers who are now helping with the cleaning efforts reported sickness after being in and on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  As channel 6, WSDU, reported, workers are experiencing illness, strong stomachache, respiratory problems, coughing and other symptoms of intoxication due to the inhalation of fumes from both the chemicals and the gases emanating from the waters.

Electropollution causes Type 3 Diabetes

NaturalNews.com

Most people are familiar with type-1 diabetes and type-2 diabetes, but did you know researchers have discovered a third type of diabetes? Type-3 diabetes, as they are calling it, affects people who are extra sensitive to electrical devices that emit “dirty” electricity.

Type-3 diabetics actually experience spikes in blood sugar and an increased heart rate when exposed to electrical pollution (“electropollution”) from things like computers, televisions, cordless and mobile phones, and even compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Dr. Magda Havas, a PhD from Trent University in Canada, recently published the results of a study she conducted on the relationship between electromagnetic fields and diabetes in Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine. In it, she explains how she and her team came to discover this about why electropollution is so dangerous for many people.

Blood sugar goes haywire

One of the most interesting finding in her study was that electro-sensitive people whose blood sugar decreases when they go for a walk outdoors actually experience an increase in blood sugar when walking on a treadmill.

Treadmills, you see, are electrical devices that emit electrical pollution. But interestingly, even the physical exertion of walking on the treadmill did not make up for the blood sugar spiking effect of the EMFs emitted by the treadmills. Despite the exercise, in other words, type-3 diabetics experienced significant spikes in blood sugar when walking on the treadmill.

Dirty electricity is bad for everyone, but it is especially bad for people who are type-3 diabetics. And Dr. Havas explains in her study that even having an electrical device plugged into the wall near someone who is type-3 diabetic can cause them problems.

We have to rethink environmental influences of modern living

I find this research fascinating, not only because it proves that electromagnetic waves impact blood sugar and heart rate, but because there could be thousands, if not millions, of diabetics who may be suffering from a diabetes misdiagnosis right now.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because a 54 year-old pre-diabetic man who participated in the study was found to experience serious blood sugar spikes only when he was working in an urban environment around power lines or on his computer. When he was out camping away from the city, his blood sugar was just fine.

The man tested his blood sugar every morning in different situations and his levels were always higher when electrical fields were nearby. On one of the mornings, he forgot to test himself prior to beginning work on the computer. His blood sugar levels were higher than normal, registering around 205 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). But after stepping away from the computer for only ten minutes, his levels dropped nearly 20 mg/dL.

The degree to which electromagnetic pollution affects the body is clearly quite astonishing, and this study illustrates that. But it makes you wonder how many people have diabetes simply because of EMF pollution (and not solely due to their diet or lack of exercise, as we have been taught).

High EMFs gave this woman diabetes

Take the case of the 80 year-old woman whose house tested high for EMF pollution. Prior to installing a system of filters around her house designed to reduce “electro-smog” levels, her blood sugar was high and she was using insulin each day in order to balance her blood sugar levels. After installing the filters (which reduced EMF pollution by roughly 98 percent), the woman’s blood sugar levels dropped by 33 percent and her insulin requirements plunged a whopping 75 percent!

This idea that reducing the electropollution of your house could drastically reduce a patient’s need for insulin has never even registered in conventional (mainstream) medicine. Yet it could be a crucial understanding for tens of millions of diabetics around the world.

The study mentioned here classifies the type of diabetes caused by electromagnetic pollution as type-3 diabetes. While those with type-1 or type-2 diabetes can also have type-3, the data seems to indicate that a person can also exclusively have type-3 without any overlay of the other two types. In other words, their diabetes may be solely due to electromagnetic pollution.

And since pre-diabetics can be pushed over the edge by EMF pollution, there is no telling how many people actually have type-3 rather than type-2 diabetes.

If you ask most mainstream medical “professionals”, they will deny that type-3 diabetes even exists. According to most of them, the idea that electromagnetic pollution contributes to disease is some sort of whacked out conspiracy theory. But there’s more to the study that you need to know…

Wireless signals interfere with the heart

For one portion of the study, Dr. Havas had patients lie down on a bed with a cordless phone placed two feet away from their heads. The phone was plugged into the wall, but for each testing session, the electricity was either on or off.

Neither the patient nor the doctor administering the test was aware of whether or not the phone was live or dead during each session. (This is what is known as a double-blind study, the type most respected in clinical trials).

At the completion of that part of the study, researchers observed that EMF-sensitive patients experienced significant increases in their heart rates during the sessions when the phone was being powered and emitting radio signals. When it was turned off, these same patients returned back to their normal heart rates almost instantaneously.

Why is this important? First of all, a double-blind study is the litmus test used in the medical profession to verify that a study is legitimate. Since nobody involved knew when the power was on or off, the results are completely unbiased and hold a lot more sway than if it had been conducted a different way.

Secondly, it illustrates that EMF pollution really does speed up the heart rates of certain people. And since a rapid pulse is one of the many symptoms of diabetes, it seems reasonable to suspect that EMF pollution could be a fundamental cause of diabetic symptoms for a significant portion of the diabetic population.

This makes you wonder about the harm caused by mammograms, CT scans and other medical scanning technologies that blast the body with electromagnetic radiation, doesn’t it?

Electromagnetic radiation leads to many diseases, including cancer

Our bodies are constantly barraged by electromagnetic radiation from numerous electronic sources, and most people don’t think twice about this high level of exposure (probably because many don’t even realize it’s there), but the truth is that all this EMF pollution is leading to widespread illness.

Most of the recent research on EMF pollution has focused on cell phones, which makes sense because people take their cell phones with them everywhere they go and when they use them, they often hold them right next to their skulls. Cell phone radiation is probably one of the most dangerous EMF polluters because the devices remain in very close contact with the body for long periods of time.

A 2008 study published in New Scientist revealed that cell phone radiation causes human cell proteins to improperly express themselves. Similar studies also found that the radiation damages living DNA, creates leakages in the blood-brain barrier, and increases estrogen and adrenaline levels, disrupting hormone balance.

According to one statistic from a 2008 study, adults who use a cell phone over the course of a decade increase their chances of developing brain cancer by 40 percent. Even worse, a Swedish study found that people who start using a cell phone before the age of 20 increase their risk of developing a brain tumor by 500 percent!

Mainstream science holds conflicting views (as usual)

Of course, many in the medical establishment simply deny that electro-smog has anything to do with health or disease. And it doesn’t matter how many studies are conducted on the matter; many continue to insist that there is not enough evidence that EMFs cause any harm.

Not everyone feels this way, of course, but sadly most of today’s experts seem unable (or unwilling) to put two and two together and make the connection between electromagnetic pollution and disease.

There are many contributors to disease in our environment. EMFs represent just one. But to deny that electromagnetic pollution is harmful is quite narrow minded. Dr. Havas’ study provides more than enough evidence that at least some people are suffering because of the electrical devices that surround them.

Our world, of course, is full of electromagnetic devices — and some of them may surprise you. A typical hair dryer, for example, emits an explosion of electromagnetic radiation that’s usually aimed right at the skull. Typical office environments shower employees with electropollution from fluorescent lighting, and even exercise gyms can subject visitors to a dense field of electromagnetic pollution (from all the electronic exercise machines).

It all gives credence to the idea of getting into nature more often, doesn’t it? If you’re sensitive to electropollution, the farther away you get from the city, the better you’ll feel. No wonder most people innately gravitate to such natural environments like forests, lakes and ocean beaches.

So, does all this research mean we should all get rid of our phones and computers and return to the pre-information age? You could always join an Amish community. They’re remarkably healthy, and part of that may be due to their lack of electropollution.

But for mainstream people, a more practical solution is to install some EMF filters around your home.

Some solutions for electromagnetic pollution

As mentioned in the study, home EMF filters are one of the best ways to reduce or eliminate the stray electrical signals that plague your house. These filters will capture electrical “noise” from things like televisions, computers and phones, and return it back into the line or into the ground. These can be connected to the outlets where these devices are plugged in.

Keeping Wi-Fi devices like cell phones and wireless routers away from your body as much as possible is another good idea. If you have a wireless router at home, place it away from areas where people sleep or spend a lot of time. Even having it just a few feet farther away can make a big difference in a reduction of the electropollution exposure from it.

When charging your cell phone, plug it in across the room from you. Especially at night when you are sleeping, it is best to turn off as many electrical devices as possible and to keep them away from your bed when sleeping. And beware of electric blankets: They produce a very strong electromagnetic field.

Try to use the speakerphone as much as possible when talking on the phone, or use an “air-tube” device that stops the signal short before it reaches your head. Never walk around with an idle bluetooth attached to your head, because these devices deliver a steady stream of EMF radiation directly into your head. I would recommend not using one at all, but if you do use one, take it off when not in use.

It’s also a good idea to keep your phone in your pocket or purse only when necessary, and to keep it away from your body at all other times. Cell phones are intermittently communicating with network towers, so the closer they are to our bodies, the more radiation we are exposed to. So if you’re not going to be using it for a while, just turn it off.

Finally, it is crucial to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of outdoor exercise. Eating lots of nutrient-rich foods, drinking plenty of clean water, and minimizing intake of toxic preservatives, food additives, and refined sugars will do wonders to build a strong and vibrant neurological system that will resist some of the impact of electromagnetic pollution.

The reason I mention outdoor exercise is because, just like in the study, certain indoor exercise equipment like treadmills can actually cause more harm than good (for certain people). So go outside and take a walk or a jog. The sunshine will boost your vitamin D levels and the fresh air will help rejuvenate your system. (Just be sure to stay away from the power lines.)

Independent thinkers are considered diseased by psychiatry

Natural News

Psychiatrists have been working on the fourth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and, in it,independent thinking they hope to add a whole slew of new psychiatric disorders. Unfortunately, many of these disorders are merely differences in personality and behavior among people.

The new edition may include “disorders” like “oppositional defiant disorder”, which includes people who have a pattern of “negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behavior toward authority figures.” Some of the “symptoms” of this disorder including losing one’s temper, annoying people and being “touchy”.

Other “disorders” being considered include personality flaws like antisocial behavior, arrogance, cynicism or narcissism. There are even categories for people who binge eat and children who have temper tantrums.

Children are already over-diagnosed for allegedly being bipolar or having attention-deficit disorder (ADD), which results in their being prescribed dangerous antipsychotic drugs. To categorize even more childhood behaviors as psychiatric disorders will only further increase the number of children who will be needlessly prescribed antipsychotic drugs.

Each new revision of DSM has included controversial new additions, and this newest version is no exception. In fact, the manual has increased considerably in size over the years. What is most disturbing about the current proposed revisions is the blatantly brave, new way in which so-called medical professionals are viewing individual characteristics.

Children who exhibit unique eccentricities in accordance with their unique personalities, in general, would be categorized as having a mental illness. If this criteria had been used in past centuries to diagnose illness, there may have never been people like Mozart or Einstein who ventured outside the norm and came up with new or unique ideas.

Washington Post article captured the essence of this concept perfectly in the following quote:

“If seven-year-old Mozart tried composing his concertos today, he might be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and medicated into barren normality.”

The perception that character differences are somehow a psychic illnesses not only absolves individuals of personal responsibility, but it takes away their unique personhood. It reduces people into subjects that cannot think for themselves, but rather have to be controlled through drugs.

Which brings us to perhaps the biggest thrust behind the DSM revisions: the drug companies. Pharmaceutical companies stand to gain a lot for having virtually every person categorized as mentally ill and in need of drugs.

A more accurate approach to the situation is to assess the psychiatrists and drug lords who are contriving such nonsense as being the true possessors of mental illness. Perhaps these people are the ones that need to be institutionalized.

Pentagon Virus Detector Knows You Are Sick Before You Do

WIRED

Imagine knowing you’ll be too sick to go to work, before the faintest hint of a runny nose or a sore throat. Now imagine thatviruspreemptive diagnosis being transmitted to a national, web-based influenza map — simply by picking up the phone.

That’s the impressive potential of an ongoing Pentagon-funded research project, spearheaded by geneticists at Duke University. Since 2006, they’ve been hunting for a genetic signature that can accurately assess, well before symptoms appear, whether someone’s been infected with a virus. Eight months into a $19.5 million grant from Darpa, the Pentagon’s out-there research agency, the expert behind the program is anticipating a tool with implications far beyond military circles.

Dr. Geoffrey Ginsburg, director of Duke’s Institute for Genome Science & Policy, is collaborating with a team of colleagues to create a gadget that can detect viral infection hours before the sniffles. Between 2006 and 2009, his team made rapid strides in identifying 30 genetic markers, found through blood samples, that are activated by a virus.

They’ve since moved to human trials, testing 80 people in four studies. Healthy participants were exposed to three different viral strains. Their blood, saliva and urine were then tested for “viral specific signatures,” that would characterize illness.

“Traditionally, we’ve diagnosed these conditions by testing for the actual pathogen, but that’s a slow process and it’s not effective until you’re already symptomatic,” Ginsburg told Danger Room. “To look at the actual host response instead is a really novel approach.”

It’s an approach that Darpa sees as a tactic to boost war-zone performance. By checking soldiers for genetic markers of illness before they’re deployed, the military hopes to optimize the outcome of a given mission. The idea would also prevent an outbreak of illness in close military quarters, by quarantining troops before they have a chance to infect others.

But what Ginsburg and company didn’t anticipate was just how widespread the benefits of the Darpa initiative would be. Not only have they found a specific genetic signature that indicates viral infection, but the team has concluded that viruses and bacterial infections trigger different genes. Which means physicians could one day know whether to prescribe antibiotics, which can treat bacteria but not viruses. The drugs are so overused and wrongly prescribed, experts at a recent congressional hearingwarned that Americans face “a post antibiotic era.”

“This would eliminate the ‘default’ of giving antibiotics, which is a significant public health concern,” Ginsburg said. “So what we’d have, essentially, is a tool to drastically improve clinical judgment in a day-to-day setting, which wasn’t a Darpa goal, but a corollary benefit because we had a chance to find these specific signatures.”

And Ginsburg has a more elaborate vision for the devices, which he hopes to see shrink down from “suitcase size” to that of “a diabetic glucometer,” which would use a finger pinprick to test for illness.

“Imagine a sensor attached to your telephone, that instantly diagnoses viral agents and transmits that to a central community database,” he said. “Google used searches to beat the CDC at tracking H1N1 — this would be surveillance that could take that to the next level.”

Ginsburg anticipates a suitcase-sized device in the war-zone within “a couple years,” and says the devices are already showing excellent accuracy 24 hours before an infected patient becomes symptomatic. In an effort to validate the results in a real-world setting, his team has turned to Duke’s campus, using crowded dorms — already human petri dishes of infection — as improvised research labs.

Now, Ginsburg’s biggest concern is that the devices will be ready before the Food and Drug Administration, who’ve yet to establish regulatory benchmarks for genetic tests, knows what to do with them.

“The major uncertainty, in my mind, is the regulatory atmosphere,” he said. “These are such a new diagnostic tool, the FDA is still trying to figure out not only how to supervise them, but whether they even need to.”

Which is a barrier for the doctor’s office, but not necessarily the war-zone.

“There’s a lot of motivation within the Pentagon to get this going,” he said. “So they might have a way around the rulebook.”