Dugway Under Scrutiny Again Over Handling of Deadly Toxins

U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground (AP photo)

The Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, which figured in a major scandal on the shipment of live anthrax, has come under scrutiny again in the handling and accounting of deadly toxins such as Sarin nerve agent.

In a report last week titled "The Army Needs to Improve Controls Over Chemical Surety Materials," the office of the Defense Department's Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine found that Dugway officials failed to give immediate notice of an accounting discrepancy that showed a 1.5 milliliter shortage of Sarin.

The report also found that Dugway was using stainless steel cylinders and ammunition cans with tamper-resistant seals for toxic agents while an authorized contractor was using plastic containers sealed with tape -- "which provides no assurance that only authorized personnel had access to chemical surety materials."

In addition to Dugway, the report focused on the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and the U.S. Army Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah, which are both involved in the destruction of chemical warfare stockpiles.

"Army officials properly implemented accountability controls" at Pueblo and Deseret, the report said, but "Army and contractor personnel did not fully implement accountability controls over chemical surety materials stored at Dugway and a contractor's facility."

Dugway was at the center of a scandal in 2015 on the mishandling of toxic agents that resulted in the shipment of live anthrax to other labs worldwide, sometimes by FedEx.

An Article 15-6 investigation under Army regulations led by Maj. Gen. Paul Ostrowski in January 2016 found that a "complacent atmosphere" at Dugway "resulted in an organization plagued by mistakes and unable to identify systemic issues in the high-risk, zero-defects world of biological select agents and toxins."

The investigation said top Dugway officials had multiple warning signs of scientific and safety problems but failed to take action despite earlier, serious incidents in the facility's labs during 2007-2011 involving anthrax, VX chemical nerve agent and poisonous Botulinum neurotoxin A.

"Over time, you see there is complacency that the leadership should have recognized and taken action to correct," Ostrowski said.

Rather than launching their own investigation or ordering disciplinary action, the Dugway leadership instead "blamed external entities or downplayed the seriousness of the incidents in reports to higher headquarters," Ostrowski said.

The latest findings on Dugway in the IG's report were disputed in part by the Army. The service did not concur with the IG that the different types of sealed containers "resulted in an increased risk that chemical surety materials are improperly stored and accounted for," said David C. Hassell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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