The U.S. Army apparently violated Utah law last year when it conducted open-air tests of new chemical weapons at Dugway Proving Ground without first obtaining air pollution permits, state officials say.
The Army, however, says it thought it was acting within the law - and thought state-approved variances allowing use of smoke-causing chemicals would also permit testing of the new chemical arms.Records show the Army conducted up to 57 open-air tests last year of the new Bigeye and Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) weapons - the first new U.S. chemical weapons in decades. Fear of them is credited for making the Soviets recently seriously negotiate a worldwide ban of all chemical weapons.
During the tests at Dugway last year, the weapons were filled with what the Army says are harmless chemicals that safely simulate the characteristics of deadly nerve gas.
But Burnell Cordner, director of the State Air Quality Bureau, said open-air use of those chemical simulants had never been approved by the state - it had just approved use of other types of smoke-causing chemicals.
"They should have a permit if they emit things in the air that we classify as a pollutant, and that's fairly broad. It may be that for various reasons they may have fit some exclusion and did not need a permit, but they should have checked with us first to find out," he said.
Cordner said penalties of up to $10,000 a day for each violation are possible under state law. While he said the state may not pursue such penalties, it does want to know how many tests the Army may have conducted without permits and what chemicals it used.
Dugway spokeswoman Kathleen Whitaker said the Army thought its tests were allowed under an extension of a variance that the state gave last year to allow obscurants tests. But she admits the Army failed to provide the state a list of all pollutants it was using by a Feb. 1 deadline.
She said although the Army did not specifically notify the state about the chemicals used in the tests, it did list them in a legal notice in Salt Lake newspapers.
But Cordner said he was not aware exactly which chemicals were used in the Bigeye and MLRS tests until told by the Deseret News. Some of the chemicals used were also listed by the Army last week in a request to the Utah Air Conservation Committee for variances to allow future tests.
The committee temporarily refused to grant variances for many of the chemicals because officials knew little or nothing about them, and because officials were upset that some compounds had been tested without permission.