California Attorney General John Van de Kamp is urging U.S. Army officials to come up with a safer way of shipping dangerous biological toxins to Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, than through the mail.
In a Monday letter to the Army, Van de Kamp protested, "It is absurd for the Army to plan extensive safety precautions at the proposed Utah facility, while shifting responsibility for safe transport of the materials to postal workers who will not even be aware of their dangerous nature."The proposed method of delivery of toxic agents should be reconsidered and a safer alternative developed, the attorney general said.
"The potential disastrous consequences of accidental mishandling or release of the toxins in an accident are obvious, yet the Army's analysis totally fails to address this question."
Van de Kamp's complaints responded to a draft environmental impact statement prepared for a proposed $5.4 million biological aerosol test facility at the western Utah Army installation.
He said stated Army intentions to deliver deadly organisms and viruses via mail could, by accident or careless handling, expose residents of California or other states to such diseases as anthrax, Q fever, tularemia or encephalitis.
Dugway Proving Ground already conducts tests of the dangerous pathogens. But it has proposed building a new lab, with the highest-rated containment level, to provide an extra margin of safety and allow for flexibility in future testing.
Utah Gov. Norm Bangerter and other state political leaders and residents have opposed the plan, claiming the Army would use the facility to experiment with more deadly agents than those now tested at Dugway, including genetically engineered organisms.
Dugway's mission includes testing protective gear and decontamination procedures for disease-causing biological agents used in aerosol form.
The Army's environmental impact statement calls for laboratories in unspecified locations to prepare toxins and forward them by registered mail to the planned Dugway lab.
Although the packages would be triple-sealed, all warnings would be on the second, inside seal,
and postal workers would have no knowledge of the contents.
"This potential could expose the people of California to some of the most dangerous biological agents known," Van de Kamp said.
He called on the Army to consider alternate transportation methods, such as the use of trained Army personnel and military vehicles, or special courier services aware of what they were carrying and prepared to deal with an accident.
"We are confident the Army can devise and evaluate alternative shipping methods," he said. "We believe they are required to do so."
Van de Kamp's letter also asked the Army to disclose the proposed transportation routes and advised officials he would file a Freedom of Information request, if necessary, to obtain them.