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Iffy Dugway Anthrax Shipments Prompt Call For Local Oversight

Dugway Proving Ground
A months-long investigation found that potentially live anthrax went to labs in all 50 states and several foreign countries. The mistakes have prompted an in-depth review of Dugway and anthrax.

A watchdog group says Utahns should be keeping tabs on operations at Dugway Proving Ground after the test center for biological and chemical weapons in Tooele County was stripped of its mission to produce anthrax for other labs to use.

U.S. Army officials blamed a “culture of complacency” at Dugway Proving Ground for allowing potentially live anthrax to be shipped to more than 184 government and commercial labs over a decade. Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Spoehr, who leads the Army’s bioweapons task force, indicated in a Pentagon news conference last week that Dugway has been stripped of part of its mission because of the findings.

“They will still be testing and they will still be testing materials against some of these biological organisms. But they will just be doing that for their internal Dugway use and not shipping organisms or materials anywhere else other than for use of Dugway.”

Investigators concluded that the problems can’t be blamed on one person or institution, but they do suggest possible disciplinary action for a dozen current and former employees, including the brigadier general who was Dugway’s commander for two years. The findings have a watchdog group calling for tougher local scrutiny of the weapons lab.

“Dugway has been manufacturing anthrax in large quantities over the years without telling the public,” says Steve Erickson, founder of the Citizens’ Education Project, “and there simply hasn’t been any outside oversight.”

The Defense Department is revamping its oversight and inspections of anthrax programs. It’s also probing the possibility that anthrax spores can survive the destruction process or even come back to life after being killed.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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