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Whistle-blower suing Army

He says Dugway woes covered up and he had to retire

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A retired Dugway Proving Ground chemist charges the Army not only covered up his concerns about safety and environmental issues but illegally retaliated against him.

David W. Hall, a Salt Lake resident, filed a claim based on federal whistle-blower protection laws. In the 1980s and 1990s, he called attention to what he considered improper handling of hazardous chemicals at Dugway. He also raised questions about the efficiency of a chemical agent detector.

Army officials tried to get him fired, forced him to take mental evaluations and pressured him so badly that his health broke, Hall said, and he had to retire early. His "constructive termination" lawsuit seeks about $1 million in damages.

Trial is nearing completion before a Labor Department administrative law judge in Salt Lake City.

"Dr. Hall raised concerns about environmental compliance and environmental dangers at Dugway Proving Ground," said Hall's lawyer, Mick G. Harrison of Bloomington, Ind.

"Certain officials at Dugway Proving Ground showed hostility toward Dr. Hall's reporting."

What is the importance of the case?

"The military facilities . . . who deal with these ultra-toxic, ultra-dangerous substances are not showing the integrity and the honesty that's required," Harrison said.

Dugway is among several labs throughout the country that the FBI is investigating to learn the source of anthrax sent through the mails in terror attacks.

In a telephone interview Monday, Hall said many of the allegations involved industrial chemicals, not the biological or chemical warfare agents that Dugway handles.

When he arrived at Dugway in 1986, he found that the base still retained industrial chemicals dating to the 1950s, he said. They were "just stored in old buildings, and the chemicals themselves were very old, with missing labels, which made them hazardous waste immediately."

He called in federal OSHA investigators in 1989, hoping that they could force improvements without writing formal citations. "They came in and they identified a number of serous problems and asked that we correct them," he said.

But he says a Dugway official then "paraphrased the OSHA report and turned a somewhat harsh report into something almost glowing." Then the OSHA report was buried, he said.

Dugway forced him to take two psychological exams, and both times the results were that he could do his duty.

In 1991, Dugway was about to build a new chemical laboratory. All the chemicals from one building were piled in an area that was not secure enough, he said. They were outside a protective fence, in a trailer and an outbuilding.

Hall and a chemical engineer looked through the material. "We were just shocked at what we found," he said. He again called the federal OSHA.

The investigators issued three citations, he said, charging Dugway with serious, willful and repeated violations of rules.

Meanwhile, Dugway conducted an internal investigation "and again largely covered up the problems. . . . They called me a disgruntled employee in that, that I had very bad motives."

OSHA regional headquarters in Denver wrote to the Army saying Hall should receive an award and that he should not be subjected to retaliation.

He got the award, "but while they were doing it, they were still trying to fire me."

Hall agreed to transfer from the chemical lab to the Joint Operations Division in June 1991. He was qualified and felt he was getting along well there.

A colonel from White Sands Missile Range conducted another investigation based on OSHA's letter to the Army. "I testified vigorously for him," Hall said. Eight days later he was sent to the Test Officer Branch, an area for which he was not as qualified.

After intervention by a Michigan senator, Hall received a written commendation from Dugway and was transferred back to the chemical laboratory. But the pressure was taking its toll.

"My health finally broke," and he had to retire in June 1997.

"They tried to make it look like his performance was inadequate," said Harrison. But that is "all pretext."

Dugway spokeswoman Paula Nicholson said, "It is standard procedure throughout the Army not to comment on any cases that are still under litigation."

E-MAIL: bau@desnews.com