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By Leonard A. Cole, Ph.D.
From Brent Parker <Gieethum@aol.com>
Nov 3, 1999
"My name is Leonard A. Cole, and I teach science and public policy at Rutgers University in Newark. My research interests include biological and chemical warfare policies, and I have written in particular about testing done in the U.S Army's biological defense program.
I appreciate your invitation, Senator Rockefeller, to testify about experiments involving simulated biological and chemical warfare agents. These agents, which the army calls simulants, are intended to mimic more lethal bacteria and chemicals that might be used in actual warfare.
As described in my book, Clouds of Secrecy, the army began a program in 1949 to assess the nation's vulnerability to attack with biological weapons. During the next 20 years, the army released simulant agents over hundreds of populated areas around the country. Targets included portions of Hawaii and Alaska, San Francisco, St. Louis, Minneapolis, New York City, Washington,D.C., Key West, and many other cities. The purpose was to see how the bacteria spread and survived as people went about their normal activities.
Evidence suggested that the tests may have been causing illness toexposed citizens. Nevertheless, as army spokesmen subsequently testified, the health of the millions of people exposed was never monitored because the army assumed that the bacteria and chemicals were harmless.
Vulnerability testing continues at Dugway Proving Ground, 70 miles from Salt Lake City. Several smaller communities are closer to the base, and Dugway itself is home to hundreds of civilians and military personnel and their families. The stated purpose of the tests is to evaluate biological detector systems and protective gear.
Since tests involve spraying simulants outdoors, it is important to understand how much risk they pose to humans who are exposed. Official statements have not always been clear on this matter. A July 1993 news release by the Dugway Public Affairs Office indicates that "no specific safety controls or protection are required for testing with simulants." The statement implies, erroneously, that the simulants are "harmless".
In fact, during 45 years of open air testing, from time to time the army has stopped using certain simulants for reasons of safety. In each instance the army belatedly recognized they could be causing disease and death, although such information had long been available in the medical literature. This was the case in the 1950s when it ceased using the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus as a simulant. The fungus had long been known to cause aspergillosis, a disease that can be fatal. Similarly, in the 1960s the army stopped using zinc cadmium sulfide, a chemical that had been known for years to cause cancer.
In the 1970s, the bacterium Serratia marcescens, a source of infections that can lead to death, was taken out of service as a simulant. And in the 1980s, dimethyl methylphosphonate, a chemical known as DPP, was removed from use as a simulant because of its carcinogenic and other toxic potential. I understand that one of today's witnesses, Earl Davenport, was exposed to DMMP at Dugway in 1984 and may still be suffering health problems as a result.
Indeed, simulants now used at Dugway continue to pose risks. The chemical ethylene oxide, which is present in some of the mixtures used in outdoor spraying, is a known carcinogen. The bacterium Bacillus subtilis, while not generally seen as dangerous, is cited in medical textbooks as able to cause serious infections. In truth any microorganism that seems harmless under some circumstances may cause illness under others.
Exposure to high concentrations of any microorganism can be critically dangerous to people in weakened conditions. The elderly, the very young, people with AIDS and others who have weakened immune systems are more susceptible to life threatening infections. Nevertheless, the army has not monitored the health of citizens who may have been exposed during its tests while maintaining that its bacterial agents cause no harm."