Just as there are now Soviet inspectors in Utah to ensure the United States follows through on its promise to reduce nuclear arms, the state is forming a group to watch Dugway Proving Ground to ensure that the Army doesn't break its promises to Utahns.
The group will include civilian and military scientists, who will discuss the Army's germ warfare testing at Dugway, said State Science Advisor Randy Moon.It should also help the Army overcome a lack of public confidence created in the past - such as falsely denying that a nerve gas accident killed 6,000 sheep in Skull Valley in 1969, and falsely claiming that nuclear test fallout posed no threat to residents downwind.
"The Army has a credibility problem. Having a group of outside scientists review its activities should help remedy that," Moon said.
Gov. Norm Bangerter suggested forming the group earlier this year during hearings on a proposed, controversial Dugway lab to test germ warfare defenses. "The Army accepted the suggestion, which surprised us a bit," Moon said.
Dugway spokeswoman Kathleen B. Whitaker said the Army felt many complicated issues about the lab were misunderstood, and that a new council of scientists could help improve communication. "We're looking forward to its formation."
Bangerter now has the existing State Advisory Council on Science and Technology reviewing names of people who might be appointed to the new council. But before recommending any names, the council wants to review issues that the new group may face - to help decide whom should be appointed.
The council listened Tuesday to a presentation by concerned local doctors and university professors, who urged the state to work to prevent the Army from developing and testing genetically engineered germs and to develop emergency procedures for whenever a germ accident occurs.
Dr. Cedric Davern, a University of Utah biology professor, said many of his fellow scientists are concerned that the Army wants a "biosafety level 4" lab, although it only plans "biosafety level 3" work at the facility.
A BL4 lab designation would permit testing germs that cause diseases without cure. A BL3 rating only only allow work on germs that cause diseases that can be cured.
The Army says it wants the BL4 lab designation simply to provide the highest level of protection possible.
But he said scientists fear that if the Army has a BL4 lab, it sooner or later would want to do BL4 work there - possibly with new genetically engineered germs.
Council on Science and Technology member David Grant, a University of Utah chemistry professor, said that presents the state with a dilemma.
If it opposes the BL4 lab, Dugway may then build a less-safe facility posing more threat to residents. But if it supports the BL4 lab, it must find a way to ensure the Army would not break its word and do exotic research there. He suggested that may be accomplished by expanding oversight by outside scientists.
Davern said local scientists also would like the Army to use simulants - instead of actual disease-causing germs - in its research.
Dr. Kenneth N. Buchi, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Utah, said local physicians would also like the Army to warn them when it plans any open-air tests - even with simulants. "Even they can cause disease with some people, like those with asthma, or among children."
He said that would allow health officials to warn people at risk to stay inside for a few days, as they now warn on days with heavy air pollution.
Buchi also said no safety system is foolproof, so the Army should also work with the state to better define procedures to follow during a germ research accident - such as what agencies are notified when.
The Council on Science and Technology plans to travel to Dugway next month for an Army briefing, and should submit names to the governor for the new oversight group soon thereafter, Moon said.