Two conceivable mishaps that might happen at a germ warfare defense testing facility planned for Dugway Proving Ground are employee sabotage and an infection, according to an environmental study released Friday.
Sabotage and an infection among workers are listed as possibilities in the supplement to the draft environmental impact statement for a biological aerosol test facility planned for Dugway. But the Army believes the risks are low.The Army's conclusion, summarizing the studies, says, "Construction and operation of the facility poses no unacceptable risk to on-site workers and no foreseeable risk to the general public or to the environment."
At one time, the Army planned to build a Biosafety Level Four (BL-4) facility for biological aerosol testing, while saying it would conduct only experiments that required the lower safety rating, BL-3. BL-4 is the highest protection, used to confine disease organisms for which there is no known cure.
But the Army has changed plans and will have only BL-3 testing and BL-3 protection.
In addition, the Army had planned to build a separate Life Sciences Laboratory rated at BL-3.
"Further evaluation concluded that consolidating construction of the BL-3 aerosol testing capability with the proposed LSL (Life Sciences Laboratory) would meet the Army's testing requirements," says a press release issued with the supplement.
Discussing ways in which organisms could be released, the supplement says some would occur at such a low likelihood that they are not a cause for concern - such as a meteorite impact or an aircraft crash.
Others can be mitigated by the facility's design, by system controls or by preventive measures. None of those possibilities are expected to harm the environment or the public health, based on the small quantities of test materials that would be on hand at any one time and the ease at which the material would break down outside in sunlight.
"There are, however, two potential events whose occurrence cannot be fully mitigated: employee sabotage and laboratory-acquired infection."
Infections acquired in the lab and spread to the outside population, and sabotage by employees are the only scenarios that are listed in the analysis as reasonably foreseeable events.
Precautions at other high-containment laboratories throughout the United States result in a "proven record of ensuring occupational safety," the report says.
There is no practical method to calculate the likelihood of employee sabotage, it adds.
"The safeguards, including the employee selection process, the security at DPG (Dugway Proving Ground) and the LSTF (Life Sciences Test Facility), the monitoring of an employee's mental and physical well-being and the biological properties of the organisms (indicates that) the likelihood of this scenario is truly low."
Three of the four organisms that would be tested are available commercially, so "the employee saboteur has little to gain.
"The risk of being discovered far outweighs any potential personal gain, unless the intent is to discredit the DPG testing program," the report says.
The single organism not available commercially is the germ that causes Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis, abbreviated in the report as VEE.
Other organisms to be tested include anthrax bacteria and germs called Francisella tularensis and Coxiella burnetii.