Several federal, state and private agencies have joined the chorus of criticism against plans for a proposed Dugway Proving Ground lab to test defenses against biological warfare.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the State Health Department, the Utah Geological and Mineral Survey and the Utah Medical Association all issued statements Tuesday, saying the Army's draft environmental impact statement for the lab is inadequate.The public comment period on that document ends this week.
The various agencies blasted the Army's report and plans citing a wide range of perceived deficiencies ranging from failure to protect the lab against earthquakes and terrorism to failure to show that the facility is even needed.
Both the EPA and State Health Department, for example, question whether the lab should have a "biosafety level 4" rating which could allow use of germs that cause disease without cure or vaccine. The Army said it plans only BL3 work, but wants the extra safety that the higher rating brings.
Regional EPA Administrator James J. Scherer wrote said the Army should better justify the need of a BL4 lab. He suggested that the Army build only a BL3 lab now, and possibly add a BL4 lab later.
Suzanne Dandoy, executive director of the State Health Department, agreed in a letter to the Army. "We are opposed to the construction of a BL4 facility because there is no justification of need nor information that demonstrates that the public could be protected."
She said she would never favor a BL4 lab in Utah but might favor a BL3 lab if more environmental information were provided by the Army.
A summary of other State Health Department objections to the environmental study and the lab said, "The document lacks sufficient detail in describing air emission controls, wastewater and drinking water management and solid and hazardous waste disposal. Because of this accurate, conclusions regarding the environmental impact of this facility are not possible."
It added, "Emergency planning details in this document are scant, and the need for state and local agency involvement in this planning is ignored. Laboratory safety procedures deserve more attention in the draft EIS. State oversight of laboratory research as well as safety programs is needed."
The EPA also complained that several alternatives to improve safety at the lab were only glossed over in the environmental impact statement. They include using simulants instead of real disease-causing germs, building the lab on a remote island and better protecting it against the possibility of terrorism which was largely ignored because it is not "reasonably foreseeable."
Agreeing with the EPA that the lab should be on the island is the Utah Medical Association. It said that Johnston Atoll in the Pacific is a better site for the lab than Dugway, which is 70 miles from Salt Lake City.
The Army, the EPA said, should also disclose the "broad principals for security control" to protect the facility from terrorist actions.
The State Health Department also had other safety concerns, saying the Army should better explain how it will handle emergencies and what civilian authorities will be contacted in case of an accidental outbreak. It is also concerned that dangerous germs will be sent through the U.S. mail.
The Utah Geological and Mineral Survey also said the Army should better explain how the facility would be protected against earthquakes, which could cause an accidental release of germs.
"The UGMS strongly recommends that a complete seismic risk evaluation be performed," it said, noting several major faults are within 100 miles of the site.