Members of a state advisory group seemed relieved Tuesday that the Army has decided that a new Life Sciences Test Facility it plans to build at Dugway Proving Ground will not have as stringent controls as originally proposed and thus will not be able to test more dangerous materials.
Positive responses to the change in plans came during a meeting between top officers from Dug-way and members of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Dugway Testing, which was appointed last year by Gov. Norm Bangerter.A supplemental draft environmental impact statement released in November said the germ warfare defense testing facility will be built to Biosafety Level Three, not the BL-4 standards once planned. That means that the most dangerous material cannot be tested there, to the relief of many.
"So it's not anything new from what you're coming on line to do, this modernized facility," commented state science adviser Randy Moon, a member of the committee.
That is true, agreed Gary Resnick, the director of Dugway's Life Sciences Division.
Public hearings on the proposal to build the new facility are scheduled for Jan. 15, 1991, at the Senior Citizen's Center, Tooele, and the next day in the Salt Palace; both meetings begin at 7 p.m. Written comments will be accepted until Feb. 22, 1991.
In effect, the changes mean only that Dugway will have a better facility to do the kinds of testing it is authorized to carry out now. However, large-scale testing of BL-3 organisms haven't been carried out since 1982, and smaller tests since 1985, because the lab is being renovated.
The renovations to the old laboratory should be completed within the next two months, according to Resnick.
But when the new 30,000-square-foot Life Sciences Testing Facility is in use - expected to be by mid-1995 - the old building will probably be torn down, said Dugway's commander, Col. Frank J. Cox.
"It's a worn-out building just in terms of the structure itself," he said.
Cox noted that the threat of chemical warfare in the Middle East "has quickened everybody's pulse" at Dugway. He believes that chemical or germ warfare may be a threat to American soldiers, so the defensive materials and techniques developed at Dugway are especially important.
Dugway is attempting to expand its role, he said. Traditionally, the base worked with simu-lants, chemicals and biological agents. For example, if an Army facility comes up with a new gas mask, it may be sent to Dugway for testing.
In the future, Dugway may become a center for various kinds of materials testing, such as roasting new uniform material in hot rooms to see how it holds up in the desert heat. Dugway is also concerned with research on mildew, which is a serious problem to the military in damp climates.
That doesn't mean that any of Dugway's jobs are necessarily secure. Cox said that with the severe budget cuts imposed on the military, there are no sacred cows - even the value of some aircraft carriers may be questioned.
Resnick responded to concerns by Dr. Naomi Franklin, a research professor at the University of Utah, that a virus called Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis might be tested at Dugway as a possibility of using it with cloned biological agents. He said the virus can be used to injure soldiers, even if it doesn't kill them.
Dugway will not develop recombinant DNA, or cloned, organisms, he said. It lacks the staff and equipment for that kind of work.
Cox said that someday Dugway may be required to use cloned material developed elsewhere in its tests, though.
According to the officers, if that happens, they will only be organisms that are suitable for the BL-3 facility. That means they will be well-understood and that protective measures will be adequate.
A safety committee is being established, and Dugway wants to ask the executive director of the Utah Health Department, Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, to join it or send a representative. "Every time we introduce an organism into the protocols out there, it goes before this safety committee," Cox said.
Improved communications such as that "will only help to strengthen our bounds and our interactions" with Dugway, said Dr. Kenneth N. Buchi, a faculty member at the University of Utah School of Medicine and a member of the committee.
Cox said, "There're about a dozen pathogens we need to test in the next four years."
Buchi commented that detailed information is given about only four of those, in the new environmental study. He believes that detailed material should be available, through a structured review process, for new material to be tested.