A three-prong attack in recent days to stop the Army from sending deadly toxins and germs to Dugway Proving Ground by regular U.S. mail is being praised by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah.
In the first prong of the attack, he and 18 other Democratic congressmen wrote Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci earlier this month saying such mailing "could expose the public to an unacceptable level of risk" and asked that alternate means of shipping be found.Besides that attack, the Postal Service on Friday proposed a ban on shipment of all disease-causing germs in the mail, and postal officials and other critics during a congressional hearing Thursday also attacked plans to mail germs.
All that prompted Owens to issue a statement praising efforts for a broader examination of Army plans for a germ warfare defenses lab at Dugway.
He said, "If estimates are correct, and dangerous biological agents will be sent from over 100 research facilities nationwide, the potential for accidents is very grave. I would, however, like to point out that Utah is `ground zero' for all these packages.
"They will arrive at the Salt Lake International Airport and be transported for sorting to the Salt Lake City Post Office. From there, they will be transported to Dugway Proving Ground. Since most packages are damaged in transit, the chance of their arriving in my district as a deadly hazard are multiplied a hundredfold."
The Postal Service published a proposed rule in the Federal Register on Friday that would ban mailing of disease-causing germs and force them to be carried by private, overnight couriers instead. A 45-day comment period will follow before a final rule is implemented.
The action is being considered because an expected increase in such shipments through the Postal Service could cause a possible hazard to postal workers, Frank Henselton, assistant postmaster general, said at a hearing Thursday before a House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee.
At that same hearing, Moe Biller, president of the American Postal Workers Union, called plans by the Army to expand its shipment of toxic materials through the postal system "bizarre" and a "devious scheme."
He said that at the very least the Postal Service should require a permit to ship toxic specimens "and should require advance notice before it is presented for acceptance into the mailstream."
Thousands of toxins and disease agents are shipped through the postal service by private laboratories as well as the Defense Department and the Centers for Disease Control, witnesses said. While the shipments require strict packaging, in some cases up to five layers, spills still occur.
Gerald Miss, a Postal Service mail handler from Frederick, Md., said he and his colleagues frequently have observed shipments that are not properly packaged.
Miss said that last November he came across a dripping styrofoam parcel containing flu vaccine, which dripped over his hands and onto his apron. "Though the spill did not result in an illness it points to a potential threat," he said.