The U.S. Army on Tuesday night suffered probably its fiercest attack within Utah since the Indian wars ended.This time the arrows came from Utah's governor, a congressman, scientists, doctors and an overflow crowd of about 350 in the State Office Building auditorium who almost unanimously and vigorously opposed plans for a laboratory at Dugway Proving Ground to test defenses against germ warfare.
In contrast, a more sedate crowd at a similar hearing in Tooele last week which many Dugway employees attended was about evenly split over the lab.
But not the Salt Lake crowd on Tuesday. For example, when Gov. Norm Bangerter said he opposed the lab, the auditorium shook with extended cheers. Said Bangerter, who is facing a re-election challenge, "That's the best hand I've had since the campaign started."
The crowd was not so friendly to Col. Wyett Colcla-sure II, director of Dugway materiel testing. When Colclasure said Dugway operations are not carried out in secrecy, many in the crowd laughed derisively. When he said Dugway operations are safe because of its dedicated scientists, more people laughed.
And when he mentioned that many microbes like the ones tested at Dugway are useful in making cheese and yogurt, virtually the whole crowd snickered. University of Utah law professor Edwin Firmage later joked that Dugway should be converted to peacetime use as a yogurt factory. The crowd cheered again.
Bangerter reiterated his earlier announced opposition to the lab, saying the Army is proposing a bio-safety level 4 lab where microbes that cause diseases without known cures could be tested but insists it only plans to do less threatening biosafety level 3 work.
"If the Army is only going to test BL3, they should build for BL3, not BL4," he said. "I will, if necessary,
do everything at my disposal to oppose this construction until completely satisfied as to its safety," he said.
Joining in the attack was Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, who sent a statement read by an aide. He criticized the Army for sending deadly germs through regular mail, making it vulnerable to an accident, terrorism or theft.
He added, "Given the dangerous nature of biological weapons testing in a state that has seen dead sheep and rampant cancers from open-air testing, both nuclear and chemical, it is unbelievable that the Army can say, `Trust us.' "
Owens vowed to fight congressional funding for the lab until its safety is adequately addressed, the governor and Legislature agree to its construction and the secretary of state confirms it will not lead to the decay of an international treaty banning biological weapons.
Firmage, the law professor who helped lead the fight in the state against the MX missile, told Army officials, "We beat you on MX. We will beat you on this. You will never have this facility." He said it would lead to a biologic arms race with the Soviet Union by causing mistrust about the lab's purposes.
Stuart Breisch, an emergency room doctor at Holy Cross Jordan Valley Hospital, said he worries the Army is taking few precautions in case an accident does occur. He worries about trying to treat someone infected by new microbes that could developed at Dugway whose characteristics are unknown.Comment on this story
Kenneth Buchi, representing the Utah Medical Association, agreed that the Army had not planned how to handle accidents in its draft environmental impact statement simply because it said the likelihood of such accidents is low. "But low probability events are familiar in the field of medicine," he said.
Showing how much attention the Dugway lab is receiving including attracting at least one television network crew to the hearing Tuesday was a statement sent from a German organization called the Gen-ethic Network.
It said, "We want the Americans to know that this small building so far away from us is arousing great concern in Europe." The organization worries that the lab could start a biologic arms race with the Soviet Union.
It added, "We in Germany have learned through our tragic national history how this process works how step by step a whole population can be taught to accommodate itself to systematic horror. The Germans in our organization feel that we have a special responsibility to speak out whenever we see a first step being taken."