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Lake Sun Leader
November 06, 2000

It's alive: Army backtracks on spray

Army had said Fort Leonard Wood bio-warfare training spray uses dead bacteria, now says that wasn't true. Still safe, spokesman says.

By Marsha Paxson

LAKE OF THE OZARKS - The Army is saying now that information given out about a training spray that has brought charges of bio-hazard was not correct .

Spokesman Mike Warren admitted Monday he told the public and members of the press that the chemical school at Fort Leonard Wood south of the Lake of the Ozarks was using a dead version of bacillus subtilis in its training exercises, when, in fact, the live version has been used there since last fall.

"The original information we got from a source at the chemical school was not correct," Warren said. "We didn't lie about it and we weren't trying to mislead anyone."

But in its official statement, the Investigations and Legislative Division of the Committee on Armed Services in Washington also said the dead form was being used, saying it "is a non-pathogenic bacterium commonly found in soils, water and decomposing plant residues."

"This substance has been tested extensively and is not considered toxic to humans, plants or animals," said Lt. Col. Everett Maynard, Jr., legislative counsel for the Army.

Armed Services Committee officials have not issued a retraction or clarification on the issue.

Warren had originally said that soldiers on Fort Leonard Wood were using a dead form of the bacillus which is released in an aerosol spray through an agricultural-type sprayer as part of biological-warfare training.

The spray drifts in line with the wind and simulates a biological attack so that soldiers can learn to detect and analyze it. "Soldiers use an air-monitoring unit, or Biological Integrated Detection System (BIDS) to detect the simulated agent," Warren said. "The only reason we use the simulant is to trigger a response in the BIDS system."

Warren said whether the version of biological agent is alive or dead does not change the Army's compliance with appropriate state permits to release such bacteria at Fort Leonard Wood.

News of the erroneous information surfaced last Friday when Department of Natural Resources officials sent out a fact sheet about bacillus subtilis, Fort Leonard Wood's use of the simulant and DNR's role in the permit process. DNR officials said they had been told by Fort Leonard Wood the live version of the simulant was being used in biological defense training.

The question of whether the bacteria used in the spray is genetically altered was also posed. Warren said it is not. Despite his assurances, however, DNR officials say they will investigate further.

"The DNR will be collecting a sample of the bacteria used at Fort Leonard Wood to be tested by an independent laboratory to confirm this," officials reported.

But Joyce Riley von Kleist, an American Gulf War Veterans Association spokesman and flight nurse from Versailles who served during the Persian Gulf War, said it doesn't matter if the Army says the simulant is dead because there is no such thing as a safe biological simulant.

"This is just one example of the government treating us like unsuspecting guinea pigs," Riley said. "They haven't been upfront and honest with us from the beginning."

Opponents of the spray contend it puts livestock and residents of the area at risk.

Hundreds of lake area petitioners have signed forms asking Gov. Roger Wilson to halt the releases on military installations across the state. In addition, opponents with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment have filed an appeal to the Missouri Air Conservation Commission to force Fort Leonard Wood officials to stop all biological and chemical-warfare training exercises.

DNR officials said the post is complying with required records for how much of the bacteria is used on a daily and annual basis.

 

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