Some say germ warfare began in 1346 when the Tartars catapulted the decaying bodies of soldiers killed by the plague into the walled city of Caffa. Historians say only 1 percent of the population survived the resulting disease.
In World War II, the United States decided to develop bombs and rockets with the same deadly mission as the Tartars' catapults - to drop germs behind enemy lines to inflict disease and death. And Utah's Dugway Proving Ground was where such arms and defenses against them were tested amid top secrecy.That left residents 70 miles away in the Salt Lake metropolitan area wondering whether germ tests or accidents at Dugway might unleash upon them the same terror that decimated Caffa centuries ago.
Information emerging in bits and pieces recently from Deseret News information requests is adding up to show that many more open-air germ tests may have been conducted at Dugway than Utahns may have realized.
At least 279 open-air germ tests have occurred. Maybe thousands of such open-air germ tests were conducted. That does not include many more chemical and even nuclear tests that occurred there. (See chart at right.)
News that Dugway had performed relatively fewer - 60 or so - open-air biologic tests through the years received banner headlines just a few
onths ago. But that report was based on incomplete information.
Army documents - some unclassified and available since 1977 and some obtained in recent months through Deseret News requests - now show that at least 114 major open-air biologic experiments have been conducted at Dugway since the 1940s.
Of note, investigative journalist Charles Piller in an upcoming article in "The Nation," also says Army documents he obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request list 69 more tests. He said the documents were so censored that it was difficult to judge how significant the tests were.
Each of those 114 experiments mentioned in the list given to the Deseret News may actually have included dozens of open-air trials.
That was the case with the eight major open-air experiments conducted during the past decade. In fact, they involved 173 separate open-air trials - an average of more than 22 open-air trials per major experiment, according to Army information released upon request by the Deseret News.
The Army has not said how many separate open-air trials were conducted for the other 108 major experiments conducted at Dugway from the 1940s through 1969. But if they had the same ratio of open-air trials per experiment as those in the past decade, almost 2,500 open-air biologic tests would have occurred.
Documents show at least 80 of the major germ experiments conducted from the '40s through '70s lasted longer than one day - with several lasting up to two years. So up to dozens of open-air trials for each such experiment are possible.
However, some question exists whether all the experiments listed were conducted in open air. Twenty-one of them are listed under the heading of "biological field testing," but documents say the location of the tests was the animal exposure chamber. The exact nature of the tests has not been disclosed; because they are called "field tests" they are included by the Deseret News in open-air experiment lists.
The various open-air tests also have used some of the deadliest germs known to man.
For example, records show that 45 of the major open-air tests used pathogens, or germs that cause deadly diseases such as botulism, anthrax, tularemia and even the same plague used in ancient times against Caffa.
Records show Pasteurella tularensis (which causes tularemia) was used in 17 tests; Brucella suis (brucellosis), 10 tests; Coxiella burnetii (Q-fever), 8 tests; Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), 6 tests; Coccidioides (coccidioidomycosis), 4 tests; Brucella melitensis (undulant fever), 2 tests; botulinum toxin (botulism), 2 tests; Psittacosis (parrot fever), 1 test; and Pasteurella pestis (plague), 1 test.
Such pathogens have not been used in open-air tests at Dugway since 1967, according to Army reports. The United States banned the use and possession of biologic arms in 1969, but some research still goes on to test defenses against germ warfare, such as face masks.
Seven of the major experiments through the decades also used pathogens designed to destroy wheat crops. The last such test was conducted in 1954.
Most of the other tests used "simulants," less dangerous germs or chemicals that simulate characteristics of pathogens. But scientists claim some simulants are also dangerous.
One was Serratia marcessens. It was used in 11 major experiments at Dugway, the last in 1978. Scientific literature claims it can cause deadly infections among people who are already sick. The Army discontinued its use when "it was recognized as an opportunistic pathogen in man," Army documents say.
Of special note, Army documents admit that at least four major experiments using simulants at Dugway conducted open-air trials on public-domain land off the base. It doesn't say exactly where off base the tests occurred.
The last two such public-land tests in Utah occurred in 1963 and used fluorescent particles. The easily traceable particles are often used in tests to determine how germs would disperse under different conditions.
The two other off-base tests occurred in the 1940s and used the simulant Bacillus subtilis, niger variety. The Army still uses it to simulate the characteristics of anthrax germs. But Leonard A. Cole, author of the book "Clouds of Secrecy," says standard microbiology texts say it can cause infections among the sick also. That simulant is still used in Army tests.
Such off-base testing may explain a mysterious find in the mid-1960s. Dugway-type bomblets washed up on Carrington Island in the Great Salt Lake. While they had been designed to be filled with biologic agents, they were filled only with dye and had no explosive components, according to the Army.