[IWAR] US nerve gas leak '68

From: Michael Wilson (MWILSON/0005514706at_private)
Date: Fri Jan 02 1998 - 10:14:21 PST

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           Feds finally admit that nerve agent was found near 1968 sheep kill
          Copyright ) 1998 Nando.net
          Copyright ) 1998 Salt Lake Tribune
       SALT LAKE CITY (January 2, 1998 00:18 a.m. EST http://www.nando.net) --
       The Army has for years had proof that nerve agent was found in the area
       where 6,000 sheep were killed in western Utah in 1968, according to a
       newly found report.
       The information is no surprise to the people who were first on the
       Then-Tooele County Sheriff Bill Pitt, in recalling the frightening scene
       of convulsing sheep and a near-hysterical shepherd, says "We didn't know
       what was going on. Then we got a call that said the Army had been
       testing nerve gas. It put a shock in all of us."
       From that first day -- March 14, 1968 -- it was apparent that a deadly
       nerve agent from the Army's Dugway Proving Ground in western Utah
       drifted off the base and killed the sheep in Skull and Rush valleys.
       It never has been acknowledged by the Army, however.
       But the report describes the evidence of nerve agent as
       "Agent VX was found to be present in snow and grass samples that were
       received approximately three weeks after the sheep incident," said the
       1970 report by researchers at the Army's Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland.
       The 1970 report acknowledges difficulty calculating how much VX the
       sheep were exposed to on March 14, 1968, but concluded: " ... it is
       possible that the quantity of VX originally present was sufficient to
       account for the death of the sheep."
       Originally stamped "confidential" and distributed to a few military
       libraries, the document was declassified in 1978. It apparently has not
       been distributed outside the military since its release. This and other
       follow-up reports submitted after the sheep-death controversy subsided
       were simply filed away. The Army never has done a detailed retrospective
       of the accident to finally resolve what happened.
       "To the best of my knowledge, this is the first documented admission"
       that VX killed the sheep, says Steve Erickson, spokesman for a military
       watchdog group known as the Downwinders. "It's not news in the sense
       that everyone knows the Army did it."
       The closest the military has came to an official admission was a press
       release issued by the U.S. Department of Defense on April 18, 1968. It
       conceded that evidence collected in the month after the incident "points
       to the Army's involvement in the death of the sheep." But the statement
       said too many unanswered questions remained to conclusively place blame.
       That remains the Army's position today. Col. John Como, commander of
       Dugway Proving Ground, this week issued the following statement:
       "The Army did not, and still doesn't, accept responsibility for the
       sheep deaths in Skull Valley. There has been a lot of conjecture, but
       extensive efforts by Utah State and Department of Agriculture scientists
       never identified the precise causal chain that led to the deaths of the
       "The Army's own investigation revealed that an open-air test of a lethal
       chemical agent at Dugway on 13 March 1968 MAY HAVE (his emphasis)
       contributed to the deaths of the sheep. The Army's investigation, as
       well as the investigations by all the other government bodies involved,
       concluded the Dugway personnel were not negligent in the test in
       question. As a result of this incident, a special committee chaired by
       the Surgeon General of the United States reviewed the test procedures at
       Dugway, and the Army adopted subsequently new controls on open air
       testing," wrote Como.
       VX is a nerve agent so powerful that a single drop on the skin can
       result in death within about 15 minutes. It works by disrupting the
       nervous system and causing breathing to stop. VX has a thick, oil-like
       consistency that allows it to be sprayed on plants prior to enemy troops
       marching through an area. It remains toxic for at least several days.
       GB is the other common form of nerve agent. It vaporizes quickly when
       exposed to air forming a deadly gas. GB dissipates rapidly.
       The 1970 report confirming the presence of VX adds another piece to the
       mountain of evidence that nerve agent killed the sheep.
       The Army's initial investigation into the sheep deaths, a more than
       1,000-page document released in 1968 by Brig. Gen. William W. Stone,
       hinted that nerve agent may have been found in the area. It said
       scientists had isolated probable "traces" of a "nerve agent or similar
       organic compound" in environmental samples collected where the sheep
       Stone's investigation also disclosed that a chemical found in the blood,
       stomach and liver of the dead sheep was "related to nerve gas samples"
       from Dugway. Experts questioned whether there was enough to kill the
       animals, however.
       And a 1972 report, also produced by the Edgewood Arsenal, found that
       laboratory sheep fed grass contaminated with VX showed exactly the same
       symptoms seen in Skull Valley.
       Sheep fed grass contaminated with several common insecticides exhibited
       different symptoms, said the Edgewood report. This refuted military
       suggestions soon after the incident that insecticides might have caused
       the Utah deaths.
       Although the Army never accepted responsibility for the sheep deaths,
       the government later compensated ranchers for their lost animals.
       Worldwide publicity about the incident contributed to then-President
       Nixon's decision to ban all open-air testing of chemical weapons in
       Federal officials four years ago launched a program to find and test the
       sheep burial sites to determine whether any hazardous substances remain
       hidden beneath the surface. Testing of recently discovered burial pits
       on the Skull Valley Band of Goshute reservation is scheduled to begin
       within the next few months.
       Danny Quintana, attorney for the Skull Valley Band of Goshute, says a
       detailed re-analysis of the 1968 sheep deaths may shed new light on the
       long-term environmental and physiological consequences of chemical
       Tribal leaders note that several older persons living on the reservation
       died soon after the sheep incident. "They think it was related to this,
       but we are never going to be able to prove it," says Quintana.
       Careful study of the Dugway incident also could help unravel questions
       about health problems reported by Gulf War veterans who believe they
       were exposed to nerve agents, adds the attorney, and help the nation be
       better prepared for possible chemical weapon attacks by terrorists.
       "The best way to do it is learn what happened with the sheep," Quintana
       The Dugway sheep incident is loaded with symbolic value in Utah. It is
       brought up regularly at public hearings as one of two reasons Utahns
       distrust the Army and -- to a lesser degree -- all other federal
       agencies. The other frequently cited cause of distrust is federal lies
       about the safety of open-air nuclear weapon testing at the Nevada Test
       Site in the 1950s and 1960s that sent clouds of radioactive fallout
       drifting into Utah.
       The Stone investigation shows that on March 13, 1968 -- the day before
       the sheep died -- Dugway employees conducted three activities with nerve
       agents. One was a test of a single artillery shell filled with a
       chemical agent, and another was the disposal of about 160 gallons of
       nerve agent in an open burn pit.
       The sheep deaths usually are linked to the third activity -- a test in
       which a low-flying jet fighter sprayed nerve agent in a barren target
       area about 27 miles west of Skull Valley. Later reports indicated one of
       the tanks malfunctioned and some of the nerve agent continued to be
       sprayed as the jet finished its run and began climbing high into the
       Dugway's meteorological reports indicated the wind was blowing out of
       the northwest at the time of the test, but later shifted to the west as
       a small storm front passed. These west winds could have carried nerve
       agent directly over the sheep herds.
       "There were scattered cumulus clouds in the general area at the time of
       the test and scattered rain showers developed during the evening," said
       the Defense Department's 1968 press release. "One of these rain showers
       could have washed this airborne agent out of the air and deposited it on
       vegetation and the ground."
       Sheep are believed to have been hit hardest by nerve agent because they
       were eating contaminated grass and snow. Sheep are one of the few
       domestic animals that can get enough water from snow to survive. A few
       dead birds and rabbits also were found.
       Shepherds and other people in the area were examined by doctors, but
       military experts reported no indication of illness related to nerve
       agents. At least one Skull Valley rancher who ate snow during this
       period has complained of chronic health problems since the incident.
       By JIM WOOLF, Salt Lake Tribune

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