Archive for category Dugway
Biological Weapons Research and Development Pose Risks Worldwide
Article by Steve Erickson
At a remote, secretive desert base 75 miles west of Salt Lake City, the Army plans to renovate an historic cold war laboratory to expand dramatically its biological warfare testing.
The US Army proposes to completely rehab the drab Baker Laboratory, a centerpiece of the Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) since 1952. The lab is listed on the National Historic Register not for its architecture but for its role in testing germ war agents both in sealed chambers and in the field. DPG itself has been the nationâ€™s premier biological and chemical warfare testing facility since the end of World War II.
Gearing up Dugwayâ€™s bio-warfare testing activities is part and parcel of the Bush Administrationâ€™s massive post 9-11 build up of the military and bio-defense business, including the proliferation of new BSL-4 and BSL-3 labs across the country. Billions of dollars have been spent in the past five years in bio-defense research, much of it at the nationâ€™s premier research universities. This build up of bio-defense capacity has gone largely unnoticed by the public and mainstream press, except on the east and west coasts, where proposed new labs in Boston and at the Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons lab have generated controversy and strong opposition.
The renovated Baker lab will contain â€œas many as eleven Bio Safety Level-3 laboratories and fourteen Biological Safety Level-2 laboratories,â€ according to the recently released Environmental Assessment. This will approximately triple Dugwayâ€™s current BSL-3 lab capacity and double its BSL-2 capabilities to meet increased demand from the Defense Department and its contractors for testing detection and protective equipment against some of the worldâ€™s deadliest pathogens.
Safety levels of labs are defined by their engineered precautions. A BSL-2 lab can handle viruses and bacteria common in the environment. BSL-3 labs are equipped and permitted to work with the deadly and traditional bio-weapons pathogens for which there are either vaccines or cures, such as anthrax. BSL-4 labs are the Cadillacâ€”they can test the most deadly pathogens for which there is no prevention, no cure. Think Ebola, Marburg.
The crown jewel of the refurbished lab at Dugway would be the Whole System Live Agent Test chamber (WSLAT). It would be capable of testing large equipment like nuclear, biological and chemical agent detection vehicles against relatively huge quantities of aerosolized live agent, presenting possibly increased risks to lab personnel and the environment beyond those previously assessed by DPG for small chamber live agent testing.
Concerns about this facility are heightened by its large capacity, industrial strength chamber, coupled with the recent solicitations by DPG for two 1,500-liter fermenters and for 1,500 liters of Anthrax sterne var. Since the Army denied Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the Citizens Education Project, a local grassroots organization leading the opposition to Dugwayâ€™s expansion, it is not known whether new fermenters and large quantities of this non-pathenogenic form of anthrax were ever delivered to Dugway. Dugway did admit in 2002 that it has been secretly producing quantities of germ agents like the deadlier strains of anthrax after two decades of denying live agent production.
History and Context of Bioweapons
As Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project points out, biological weapons are nearly as old as war. In Roman times, wells were poisoned. Two hundred years ago in North America, the British Army attacked Native Americans by using smallpox-infected blankets. In World War II, the Japanese Army used bioweapons on a large scale in China. This list continues, and current technological advances increase the risk drastically.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said in 2005 that bioterrorism is â€œthe greatest existential threat we have in the world todayâ€ and called for a biodefense research and development effort that â€œeven dwarfs the Manhattan Project.â€ Others see the risk posed by governments and militaries engaged in biological weapons â€œdefenseâ€ as at least as dangerous. The boundary between offensive biological warfare or terrorist programs and biological defense can be quite murky.
To address the threat of offensive bioweapons, in 1972 countries agreed to the the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which bans the development or production of biological agents for non-peaceful purposes. Recently, US military officials have called for a renegotiation of the BTWC to enable the development of gas-guzzling bacteria to curtail an enemyâ€™s mobility (by eating up their gasoline or attacking drug-producing plants).
Moreover, verification of the BTWC is especially difficult because bioweapons research is beset with the problem of dual-use technology. Nearly all the know-how and equipment necessary for an offensive biological warfare program has applicability to civilian medical or biological research. A very thin line separates offense and defense bioweapons research. Also biodefense research can be problematic as in many cases defensive work generates an offensive capability.
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