While Dugway Proving Ground is proposing a new lab to provide greater safety for employees working with some of the deadliest germs on earth, the Army is continuing to make plans to ship those deadly germs to the lab through regular mail.
That has prompted a House Post Office Committee panel to call for a hearing June 23 in Washington, D.C., about the shipping of infectious materials through the mail.When the Army recently issued a draft environmental impact statement on the controversial proposed biologic test facility at Dugway, it said it would ship hazardous materials by U.S. mail or via commercial courier services. Many of the germs used for testing are grown at private labs around the country.
The situation brought an outcry from such people as California Attorney General John Van de Kamp who said, "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.
Although the packages would be triple-sealed - being placed inside a water-proof container inside absorbent cushioning that is inside a sealed outer container - all warnings that the package has dangerous materials would be on the second, inside label, Van de Kamp said.
"This potential could expose the people of California to some of the most dangerous biological agents known," Van de Kamp complained.
Despite such concerns, Postal Service headquarters spokesman Lou Eberhardt told the Deseret News that the mails have carried such dangerous materials for years for both private and government labs - and that postal workers are not overly concerned about them as long as they are packaged correctly.
"Our concerns are typically not with the labs that understand what they are dealing with, rather with folks who put some sort of biologic material in the mail without knowing how to do it," Eberhardt said.
"We have no deep concern about the situation. But there have been some concerns raised by people in general about the idea of sending blood samples through the mail for AIDS testing."
Eberhardt said the only accident he is aware of from shipping such hazardous material in the mail occurred in Kansas City, where a package leaked material and made several employees sick. He said employees there reacted by wearing surgical gloves to provide more protection.