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Dugway worries: Army may open a can of worms

Published March 23, 2007 9:11 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Typically, we're big fans of recycling, including reusing old buildings. But plans to take the boards off the Baker Laboratory on the U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Ground don't appear to be in the best interest of the nation, and Utah in particular.

Army officials say the lab, which was replaced by a newer facility in 1998, will be used to test the effects of anthrax and other biological warfare agents on protective equipment and detection systems. They say that due to threats of terrorist attacks this type of research is necessary, and more lab space is needed.

But let's keep our eye on the ball here. The Army is expanding its experimentation with deadly pathogens for classified defense purposes, and that's scary. It's no wonder we're concerned.

We're concerned because much of what happens at Dugway is top secret. We do know, however, that the 1,300-square-mile facility about 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake City is one of the Army's primary chemical and biological defense testing centers, and contains some of the nastiest bacteriological and chemical agents that nature and man have devised.

And we're concerned because history has taught us to be. Let's not forget those 6,000 sheep that were killed outside the proving ground boundaries in 1968. The Army never admitted it was nerve gas gone astray, but they reimbursed the farmers, and promised to never test chemicals in the open air again.

But mostly we're concerned that other nations believed to have biological weapons programs - Iran, China and Russia to name a few - will be concerned, perhaps concerned enough to step up "defensive" testing of their own. And who could blame them?

Think of testing biological warfare countermeasures as a scrimmage at football practice. You can't test your defense without learning a little bit about your offense. Same goes with testing biological weapons detection systems. The data you derive can be used for all sorts of purposes, offensive and defensive.

So we're afraid that other countries will view our expanded research efforts as not only a threat, but a reason to build more labs and conduct more tests of their own. And the last thing the world needs is an escalation of this type of testing. The last thing the world needs is more deadly pathogens, and another Baker Lab.