Angered by the Army's research into biological warfare at Dugway Proving Ground, several Utah groups are organizing a public hearing to let state residents vent their feelings.
The groups, led by the Downwinders, said Friday the hearing will be the only opportunity Utahns have to let the Army know how they feel about expanded germ warfare testing."The Army has deliberately excluded the people of this state," said Steve Erickson, spokesman for the group. "We feel that is unconscionable."
The Downwinders originally was organized to seek compensation for deaths and illness allegedly caused by radiation that drifted into communities in southern Utah, Arizona and Nevada following above-ground nuclear tests.
Members of the group see a relation between those deaths and the current research into germ warfare.
"We learned through nuclear testing that we must not rely on the promises of our government," said Preston Truman, president of Downwinders. "It's up to the public to find the answers itself."
The hearing will be Friday at 7 p.m. at Westminister College's Converse Hall. On July 9, physicians and scientists are invited to a symposium on biological warfare at the University of Utah Law School from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Erickson said.
The Army will hold two public hearings in Arlington, Va., July 25 and will accept written comments until Aug. 12. Erickson said comments made at the two Utah hearings will be sent to the Army.
The Downwinders and other groups opposed to the research claim the Army is risking the health of Utahns who could become victims of an accident.
The Army will be experimenting with genetically engineered organisms, and will handle organisms that could create new and incurable diseases, members of the groups said. They are skeptical of claims the research will be safe.
"There is no such thing as "safe," said Cedric Davern, a University of Utah biology professor. "We're looking at the first step toward the escalation of biological warfare capacity. We already have mutually assured destruction in the nuclear theater, do we really need to have the same in the biological theater?"
Erickson said Downwinders has received no support from elected officials and has had difficultly getting information from the Army.
"We challenge the Army to come out here and confront the Utah public," he said.
Erickson said the research program centers around Dugway and two Army laboratories in Maryland but also involves several sub-contractors nationwide.
The Downwinders recently won a legal victory over the Army by obtaining a court order requiring an environmental impact statement for a proposal to build an aerosol testing facility at Dugway.