A founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility says there is no excuse for testing dangerous germs at Dugway Proving Ground and that military bases like Dugway make "lousy" neighbors.
Dr. Victor Sidel, professor of social medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of New York, visited Utah this week to deliver a talk before the public health conference in Park City."I'm very disappointed and concerned to hear that they're going to use the Baker Lab (at Dugway) to test pathogens," Sidel told the Deseret News Thursday afternoon. "I don't think there's any excuse to test pathogens of any sort, even in a BL-4 laboratory."
BL-4 is shorthand for Biosafety Level 4, the most highly protected type of defense germ warfare testing laboratory. It is used to confine disease organisms for which there is no known cure.
For years, Dugway planned to build a new BL-4 facility for biological aerosol testing, while saying it would only conduct experiments that require the lower safety rating, BL-3. But then Dugway decided to revamp its existing BL-3 lab, retaining the higher rating.
"To test them (pathogens) in a reconstructed BL-3 laboratory like Baker seems to me extremely foolish," Sidel said.
"There's the continuing risk - although of course it's small - there's always the potential risk of the escape of pathogens. . . . You can never say never."
Beyond any danger to Utah residents or the environment, he said, "This kind of work continues the biological arms race. It's provocative, ambiguous work and simply encourages other countries to continue working on biological weapons."
If the millions spent on military germ research could be used in programs such as medical care for the poor, "it'll serve national security far more than testing pathogens," Sidel said.
He noted that military weapons production centers, such as nuclear weapons facilities, have been closed because of "massive pollution to the environment, massive danger to the workers." This is a potential problem at Dugway, too, he said.
Land in the Dugway area is off-limits because of possible contamination by live organisms, he said. "And then in addition, we know from published reports - in fact, reports that your paper's published - there's been non-pathogenic pollution."
Military officers have been trying to extend Dugway's boundary "because of dangerous residues at the borders." He compared the situation to the radioactive pollution that has leaked into the environment at weapons production plants.
"They've been lousy neighbors," he said of the military facilities because of their pollution, whether they produced nuclear bombs or were used for biological research.
"They're also lousy neighbors because they refuse to allow the surrounding communities to know what they're doing and what the dangers are."
In 1985, while Sidel was president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the international group of which Physicians is this country's affiliate.