The former chief of a research lab at Dugway Proving Ground says the Army is being unfairly criticized by non-experts about its work to develop defenses against germ warfare.
Dr. Paul Adams called the Deseret News to complain about a story Tuesday that said Dugway in the past 10 years conducted 173 open-air trials with germ-weapon "simulants" that the Army says are safe - but which some scientists warn could still pose health threats.Adams says scientists who say those simulants are not safe "are crazy."
Leonard Cole, a Rutgers political science professor, wrote in his new book "Clouds of Secrecy" that medical textbooks say that one of the simulants, Bacillus subtillus, may cause infections and can serve as a carrier for other dangerous diseases.
The Army uses the "niger variant" of that organism, which it says is safe although other strains may not be.
Adams - who pointed out he is not an Army spokesman and is expressing his own opinion - said, "Cole is not a microbiologist and it shows in his writing. What he says is a lot of baloney, and every time you mention his book all it does is sell a thousand more copies of his book."
He adds, "I did an extensive bibliographic search about that organism, and never once has it been shown to cause infection. I've been in clouds of it that were so thick that if you blew your nose, it would be orange. It's not dangerous.
"There is far more danger in going to a movie" and being around people with colds and other diseases, he said.
Adams said Serratia marcescens, another simulant, is also fairly safe - even though the Army has discontinued its use and Victor Yu, a specialist in infectious diseases, published an article in 1979 saying the organism can cause meningitis, wound infection and arthritis.
Adams said the story Tuesday unfairly left the impression that Army spraying of that organism in San Francisco in 1950 was responsible for the death of a man who received an infection from the same organism only days after the unannounced test. It was the first-ever recorded infection from that germ at the Stanford Hospital.
Adams said boards of review determined that the Army test was not responsible for that infection. A court case later produced experts that disagreed with that finding. Regardless, the court ruled the man's survivors could not sue the government for such national-defense operations.
Adams said, "That organism can cause infections in sick people, but we don't test it around sick people out at the grids at Dugway."
He added that sunlight, air pollution, humidity and other factors quickly kill those organisms in the open-air before they can travel far - even though epidemiologist have said they worry organisms could somehow reach populated areas.
Adams said epidemiologists are not aerobiologists and may not realize all the factors that destroy such organisms quickly.
He said his main concern is that recent negative publicity about testing at Dugway could make the Army decide to remove many of its research operations - and take some of Utah's top scientists with it. "It would be another `brain drain' for us."
He added, "These stories do a disservice to the community. They just get people scared. They don't fairly present the Army's side of the story."