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NC Department of Health and Human Services
State Laboratory of Public Health
N.C. Public Health Home

Chemical Terrorism and Threat (CTAT) Unit

CTAT Overview

  • Created in 2002, as part of the Laboratory Response Network (LRN), to respond to chemical acts of terrorism by testing potentially exposed persons for cyanide and metals. The unit has expanded this role to currently respond to acts of terrorism, accidental exposures, occupational exposures, and the identification of unknown substances.
  • The CTAT is an enhanced level 2 laboratory participating in the Laboratory Response Network for chemical emergencies. As part of the network, the CTAT can respond to national events or assist other states to absorb surge testing.
  • The CTAT unit is staffed with four chemists. 24-hour continual operations are managed by rotating 2-person, 12 hour shifts throughout an event.
  • All clinical testing is conducted using mass spectrometry. Two ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer) systems are employed for metals testing. Three GC-MS (Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer) systems are used for testing cyanide, Tetramine, volatile organic compounds and unknowns. One LC-MS/MS (Liquid Chromatograph Tandem Mass Spectrometer) system is used for the testing of exposure to nerve and chemical warfare agents, tetranitromethane, as well as ricin and abrin exposures. One LC-QTOF (Liquid Chromatograph-Quadrupole Time of Flight) system is used for Fentanyl and Fentanyl analogs in unknown substances as well as exposures for first responders.

The Importance of CTAT

  • The only conclusive way to confirm exposure is to perform clinical testing.
  • The CTAT unit is a 24/7 response to chemical exposures ranging from accidental exposure to overt acts of terrorism.
  • The CTAT unit can identify or rule out chemicals in the testing of unknown substances such as white powders.
  • The CTAT unit provides national support for CDC and other states to perform surge testing.
  • The ability to respond after hours and respond quickly is designed into the unit.
  • The highly specific tests the CTAT unit routinely tests for are not available in any hospital or commercial laboratory.
  • As one example, this Unit conducted significant investigative work during the 2019 outbreak of E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI).

CTAT Unit Information