Tesla drivers praise ‘bioweapon defense mode’


Many Tesla drivers responded to the air quality ‘red alerts’ flashing up and down the eastern US on Wednesday by switching on their vehicles’ ‘Bioweapon Defense Mode’ feature – and singing its praises on Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s social network.

The apocalyptic-sounding ‘Bioweapon Defense’ option cranks up the vehicle’s HEPA filtration system, allowing the driver inside the Tesla to breathe clean air without having to endlessly recycle what’s inside the car or risk inhaling the wildfire smoke that has poured south from Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario for nearly a week.

The worst wildfire season Canada has seen in over a decade has suffocated dozens of major US cities, creating brownish orange skies with a red sun that wouldn’t look out of place on Musk’s hypothetical Mars colony.

According to several Tesla owners’ tweets, the filtration feature – something few had seen as anything more than a novelty biohazard symbol next to the usual air conditioner buttons – is able to cleanse even the dirtiest, most particulate-ridden outside air before circulating it through the car’s interior.

Drivers tweeted their thanks to Musk, who sang the praises of his Model S and Model X’s “hospital-grade HEPA air filters,” capable of “protecting you from dust, bacteria, pollen (allergies), spores & many toxic gases” from his own Twitter account. The billionaire added that his Model 3 and Model Y are also capable of master filtration, but are “too small to fit the monster HEPA filters.”

US health authorities in several states have warned residents against going outside, or even using standard air conditioners, which pull in air from the exterior. The dirty air containing particulates from tens of thousands of acres of burnt forest can cause respiratory distress, burning eyes and throat, and chest pains, while contributing to the development of cancer and other chronic diseases.

Tesla touts its vehicles’ unique capability on its website, explaining “Bioweapon Defense Mode is not a marketing statement, it is real. You can literally survive a military-grade bio attack by sitting in your car.” This convenience doesn’t come cheap – upgrading a Tesla Model S made between 2012 and 2020 with HEPA air filtration and the Bioweapon Defense Mode feature costs $500 – but then neither does the vehicle itself. A 2023 Model S can cost up to $105,000, according to car price index Edmunds.

Operation Sea-Spray was a 1950 U.S. Navy secret biological warfare experiment in which Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii bacteria were sprayed over the San Francisco Bay Area in California, in order to determine how vulnerable a city like San Francisco may be to a bioweapon attack.[1][2][3][4]

Military test

Starting on September 20, 1950 and continuing until September 27, the U.S. Navy released the two types of bacteria from a ship off the shore of San Francisco, believing them to be harmless to humans. Based on results from monitoring equipment at 43 locations around the city, the Army determined that San Francisco had received enough of a dose for nearly all of the city’s 800,000 residents to inhale at least 5,000 of the particles.[5][6][7][8] This is within the range of infectivity for anthrax.[9]


On October 11, 1950, eleven residents checked into Stanford Hospital in San Francisco with very rare, serious urinary tract infections. Although ten recovered, Edward J. Nevin, who had had recent prostate surgery, died three weeks later from a heart valve infection. The urinary tract outbreak was so unusual that the Stanford doctors wrote it up for a medical journal.[7][3] None of the other hospitals in the city reported similar spikes in cases, and all 11 victims had urinary-tract infections following medical procedures, suggesting that the source of their infections lay inside the hospital.[5] Cases of pneumonia in San Francisco also increased after Serratia marcescens was released, though a causal relation has not been conclusively established.[10][11] The bacterium was also combined with phenol and an anthrax simulant and sprayed across south Dorset by US and UK military scientists as part of the DICE trials that ran from 1971 to 1975.[5][12]

There was no evidence that the Army had alerted health authorities before it blanketed the region with bacteria. Doctors later wondered whether the experiment might be responsible for heart valve infections around the same time as well as serious infections seen among intravenous drug users in the 1960s and 1970s.[3]

Senate subcommittee hearings

In 1977, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research held a series of hearings at which the U.S. Army disclosed the existence of the tests.[13] Army officials noted the pneumonia outbreak in their testimony but said any link to their experiments was totally coincidental. The Army pointed out that no other hospitals reported similar outbreaks and all 11 victims had urinary-tract infections following medical procedures, suggesting that the source of their infections lay inside the hospital.[5]

Similar biological warfare tests

Main article: United States biological weapons program

In the Senate subcommittee hearings in 1977, the Army revealed:

  • Between 1949 and 1969, open-air tests of biological agents were conducted 239 times. In 80 of those experiments, the Army said it used live bacteria that its researchers at the time thought were harmless. In the others, it used inert chemicals to simulate bacteria.
  • In the 1950s, army researchers dispersed Serratia on Panama City and Key West Florida with no known illnesses resulting.
  • In the 1950s, army researchers dispersed zinc cadmium sulfide (now a known cancer-causing agent) over Minnesota and other Midwestern states to see how far they would spread in the atmosphere. The particles were detected more than 1,000 miles away in New York state.
  • Bacillus globigii, never shown to be harmful to people, was released in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., and along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, among other places.
  • In New York, military researchers in 1966 spread Bacillus subtilis variant Niger, also believed to be harmless, in the subway system by dropping lightbulbs filled with the bacteria onto tracks in stations in midtown Manhattan. The bacteria were carried for miles throughout the subway system. Army officials concluded in a January 1968 report that: “Similar covert attacks with a pathogenic disease-causing agent during peak traffic periods could be expected to expose large numbers of people to infection and subsequent illness or death.”
  • In a May 1965 secret release of Bacillus globigii at Washington’s National Airport and its Greyhound Lines bus terminal, more than 130 passengers were exposed to the bacteria and traveled to 39 cities in seven states in the two weeks following the mock attack.[5]

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