- United States Senate Testimony before the Committee on
Veterans' Affairs May 6, 1994
- "My name is Leonard A. Cole, and I teach science
and public policy at Rutgers University in Newark. My research interests
include biological and chemical warfare policies, and I have written in
particular about testing done in the U.S Army's biological defense program.
- I appreciate your invitation, Senator Rockefeller, to
testify about experiments involving simulated biological and chemical warfare
agents. These agents, which the army calls simulants, are intended to mimic
more lethal bacteria and chemicals that might be used in actual warfare.
- As described in my book, Clouds of Secrecy, the army
began a program in 1949 to assess the nation's vulnerability to attack
with biological weapons. During the next 20 years, the army released simulant
agents over hundreds of populated areas around the country. Targets included
portions of Hawaii and Alaska, San Francisco, St. Louis, Minneapolis, New
York City, Washington, D.C., Key West, and many other cities. The purpose
was to see how the bacteria spread and survived as people went about their
- Evidence suggested that the tests may have been causing
illness to exposed citizens. Nevertheless, as army spokesmen subsequently
testified, the health of the millions of people exposed was never monitored
because the army assumed that the bacteria and chemicals were harmless.
- Vulnerability testing continues at Dugway Proving Ground,
70 miles from Salt Lake City. Several smaller communities are closer to
the base, and Dugway itself is home to hundreds of civilians and military
personnel and their families. The stated purpose of the tests is to evaluate
biological detector systems and protective gear.
- Since tests involve spraying simulants outdoors, it is
important to understand how much risk they pose to humans who are exposed.
Official statements have not always been clear on this matter. A July 1993
news release by the Dugway Public Affairs Office indicates that "no
specific safety controls or protection are required for testing with simulants."
The statement implies, erroneously, that the simulants are "harmless".
- In fact, during 45 years of open air testing, from time
to time the army has stopped using certain simulants for reasons of safety.
In each instance the army belatedly recognized they could be causing disease
and death, although such information had long been available in the medical
literature. This was the case in the 1950s when it ceased using the fungus
Aspergillus fumigatus as a simulant. The fungus had long been known to
cause aspergillosis, a disease that can be fatal. Similarly, in the 1960s
the army stopped using zinc cadmium sulfide, a chemical that had been known
for years to cause cancer.
- In the 1970s, the bacterium Serratia marcescens, a source
of infections that can lead to death, was taken out of service as a simulant.
And in the 1980s, dimethyl methylphosphonate, a chemical known as DPP,
was removed from use as a simulant because of its carcinogenic and other
toxic potential. I understand that one of today's witnesses, Earl Davenport,
was exposed to DMMP at Dugway in 1984 and may still be suffering health
problems as a result.
- Indeed, simulants now used at Dugway continue to pose
risks. The chemical ethylene oxide, which is present in some of the mixtures
used in outdoor spraying, is a known carcinogen. The bacterium Bacillus
subtilis, while not generally seen as dangerous, is cited in medical textbooks
as able to cause serious infections. In truth any microorganism that seems
harmless under some circumstances may cause illness under others.
- Exposure to high concentrations of any microorganism
can be critically dangerous to people in weakened conditions. The elderly,
the very young, people with AIDS and others who have weakened immune systems
are more susceptible to life threatening infections. Nevertheless, the
army has not monitored the health of citizens who may have been exposed
during its tests while maintaining that its bacterial agents cause no harm."