The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has joined numerous Utah politicians, scientists and arms protesters to voice concerns about a proposed lab at Dugway Proving Ground to test defenses against germ warfare.
Regional EPA Administrator James J. Scherer wrote this week that the Army's draft environmental impact statement about the lab should explore some options the report glossed over that could improve the lab's safety.For example, he said the Army should further study using simulants instead of real disease-causing germs, should consider building the lab at a remote island, provide better security against terrorism and provide better information and access to the facility to improve public confidence in it.
The EPA also questioned the need for a biosafety level 4 rating, the highest possible. This would allow use of germs that cause diseases without cure or vaccine. The Army has said it plans to perform only biosafety level 3 work at the lab but wants the higher rating only to ensure better safety.
The EPA suggested the Army provide additional justifications for the need for a level 4 lab and consider building a level 3 lab now and a level 4 lab later, perhaps somewhere other than Dugway.
Gov. Norm Bangerter has said if the Army plans to do only the less dangerous biosafety level 3 work, then it should build only a level 3 lab.
EPA officials said that while the draft environmental impact statement concludes that exclusive use of simulants is not a viable alternative, it fails to analyze in detail the limited use of simulants.
Limiting the use of actual dangerous organisms would further reduce the risk, the EPA said.
The EPA also said the Army should clarify the costs of building the proposed lab at Johnston Atoll in the Pacific.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said such a location would be safer than Dugway, which is only 70 miles from Salt Lake City. But the Army said the island is only a half-mile wide and 1.5 miles long and is already overly crowded with other chemical and biologic weapon activities.
The Army, the EPA said, should also disclose the "broad principles for security control" to protect the facility from terrorist actions.
Numerous critics at hearings in Utah claimed that the Army plans little protection against terrorism at the lab because the Army said terrorism is not a reasonably forseeable possibility.
The EPA said it would list the Dugway environmental impact statement in category EC-2, indicating the agency has environmental concerns about the facility.