Utahns could get a feeling of more security - or more concern - from a flurry of activities connected with the nation's chemical and biological warfare programs.
Developments Wednesday and Thursday included:-The Army announced plans for a citizens advisory panel to oversee operations of a proposed germ warfare defenses laboratory at Dugway Proving Ground. It was a victory for numerous Utah politicians and scientists who had called for such a group.
-The Senate Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee released a study Wednesday of chemical- and biologic-warfare programs, charging that the Defense Department has inadequate controls over its chemical- and biologic-warfare laboratories.
-The Army released a draft environmental impact statement on its overall biologic defense research program on Thursday. It said the program does not create significant adverse impacts on the environment, and said operation of such facilities as Dugway Proving Ground are safe and vital to national defense.
At a news conference in the office of Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, Army Assistant Secretary Michael W. Owen said the citizens advisory panel for the proposed Dugway lab would act in an ombudsman role for Utahns interested in the facility.
The group will be appointed in consultation with the Army, Gov. Norm Bangerter and members of the Utah congressional delegation, Hansen said. As representative of the Utah's First District in which Dugway is located, Hansen said he expects to name or at least suggest some of the members. He said Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, will be consulted.
Suggestions for such a panel have come from several sources. Bangerter proposed one March 14. Owens suggested last week that a panel be set up by law, with distinct legislative authority to ask questions. A group of scientists brought the subject up in January, an Owens aide said. The group will be in effect "a jury," Hansen said, and it should "be made up of people with technical qualifications . . . and people who have not made their minds up pro or con." Owen told reporters the Army does not expect the panel to have any direct role in deciding if the test chamber will be built.
"It is to be a mechanism to help us reach a decision," Owen said, but the Army itself will make the decision to go ahead or not, and Congress will be the final arbiter as to whether it provides the money.
Hansen said he worked out the plan with the Army because he thought the debate in Utah "has gotten out of hand" over the facility, and he hoped "to calm it down."
Hansen and Owen left open the possibility that the panel would continue to monitor Dugway even after the test chamber was built, but both said they did not expect it to be a permanent group.
As Hansen announced plans for the citizen's panel, the Senate Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee released its own study of chemical and biological warfare programs late Wednesday, charging that the Defense Department has inadequate controls over its chemical and biological warfare laboratories.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate panel, said investigators uncovered "serious deficiencies" in management of the program. Levin cited accidents, including deaths of laboratory personnel, at Fort Detrick and Aberdeen, Md.
In contrast to that report was the Army's draft environmental impact statement on its overall biologic defense research program released Thursday.
It said the program does not create significant adverse impacts on the quality of the human environment, and the perceived risks are considered to be very much exaggerated based on the credible scientific evidence and reasonably assumed circumstances.
Moreover, the draft found "no catastrophic results that could lead to significant adverse consequences" at any of the three biologic defense research sites, including Dugway Proving Ground.
The Defense Department told reporters a public hearing will be held on the draft EIS in Washington on July 25, and a comment period that is to remain open until Aug. 12. A final EIS will be issued next winter, DOD said.
According to the draft EIS, the Army uses genetically-engineered microorganisms as "a vital research tool" in its program. But the appropriateness of research with those organisms, per se, is beyond the scope of the draft, the Army said.
The draft said the issues to be resolved are: 1) continue the present program, or 2) terminate it.
Terminating the program would, the Army said, abandon the nation's defenses against biologic attack, and the "medical benefits to the global population" that are a secondary gain from research in the field.
More than 100 private and university laboratories, including the University of Utah, participate in the program, the draft said.