Even though the Army canceled plans Monday for a controversial germ warfare defense lab, that didn't stop critics from attacking the Army's overall germ-research plans during a public hearing.
They said an Army document that maintains military germ research poses no threat to the environment or public cannot be believed and is in conflict with reports from other arms of the government.Dugway Proving Ground is where germ-warfare defenses are tested, and Brigham Young and Utah State universities have Army germ-research contracts. Because of those ties, several Utah politicians requested a Utah hearing on the draft environmental impact statement.
Several officials thought the Army's announcement that it had dropped plans for a "biosafety level 4" germ-research lab at Dugway would diffuse criticism at the Monday night hearing at the Tooele Army Depot theater. As Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said, "It should take all the fun out of the hearing."
But it did not. Critics instead outlined to an audience of about 60 what they said are other germ-warfare issues that the Army must face and correct.
Steve Erickson, spokesman for the watchdog group Downwinders, said the Army must be more open with its records to prove that its research is responsible. He said the Army could conduct dangerous research at Dugway without the public knowing because it has consistently failed to release documents about its testing as requested by reporters and Downwinders.
He said the Army has also been deceptive about its past work. For example, a 1977 report to the Senate was supposedly a comprehensive listing of all open-air research conducted by the Army. But recent Freedom of Information Act requests show that up to 69 tests were not included, he said.
The Senate report also did not mention that up to 40 gallons of Q-fever slurry were dropped from an airplane traveling at near supersonic speed. Just one drop of the slurry contained billions of organisms, and just one could cause infection.
Erickson called for a "new glasnost" by the Army to show what has happened in the past so that the Army can be trusted in the future.
Downwinders President Preston Truman added, "We've been A-bombed, nerve-gassed and lied to. A BL3 containment on a test facility does not alter a history of lies and deceit."
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, noted that the Army's report saying the Army has a great safety record is in conflict with reports from the General Accounting Office and the majority staff of the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management.
He said those agencies reported instances of fires in secure containment areas, loss of vials of infectious material, infection of lab workers and inadequate safety controls.
Owens said he will pursue legislation to turn military germ research over to a civilian agency, such as the National Institute of Health to ensure more openness.
Brian Moss, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, also attacked the overall research program.
But not all were critical of the Army. Hansen released a statement saying, "I do not believe there is any state that supports the armed forces of our country more passionately than Utah. That passion and support comes from mutual trust and understanding and the sharing of opinions and ideas. Today, we have seen that opinions do count and that the Army does listen . . . . I support the Army's entire Biological Defense Research Program."