Chemical Scare Prompted Lockdown of Dugway Army Facility in Utah

Thursday, 27 Jan 2011 12:08 PM

By Jim Meyers

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The mysterious lockdown of the Army’s huge Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah raised concern about the possible disappearance of a dangerous chemical weapon. The Army confirmed that fear today when it acknowledged locking down the facility because a vial of the deadly nerve gas had been missing.

The lockdown began at 5:24 p.m. on Wednesday. Employees were not allowed to leave and had to spend the night in their offices or cars, and no one was allowed to enter the facility.

The Army released a statement today acknowledging that it clamped down the facility because a vial of the nerve agent VX was missing. Less than one-fourth of a teaspoon of VX was missing during an inventory check, the Army said. The vial has been located.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “VX is the most potent of all nerve agents.”

Dugway, deadly, chemical, Army
Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.
Until the Army released the statement, officials at the remote location remained tight-lipped about why they ordered the gates closed, although Dugway Post commander Col. William King said the Army is working to “resolve a serious concern,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Spokeswoman Paula Thomas initially said the lockdown was part of “an ongoing security operation,” according to the Deseret News.

Someone at Dugway posted on Twitter on Wednesday night: “Still under a lockdown at Dugway for 6.5 hours and counting. Apparently a vial of VX nerve agent is missing.”

The message has since disappeared and no longer appears on Twitter.

Dugway Proving Grounds is an 800,000-acre, Rhode Island-sized facility about 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. More than 2,000 people live on the site, which is used to test biological and chemical weapons. More than 1,200 were on the site when the lockdown began.

In March 1968, 6,249 sheep died in Skull Valley, an area about 30 miles from Dugway's testing sites. The sheep were found to have been poisoned by a chemical. The sickening of the sheep coincided with several open-air tests of the nerve agent VX at Dugway.

The Army initially denied that VX had caused the deaths, but necropsies conducted on the dead sheep later identified the presence of VX. The Army never admitted liability, but did pay the ranchers for their losses.

On the official record, the claim was for 4,372 "disabled" sheep, of which about 2,150 were either killed outright by the VX exposure or were so critically injured that they needed to be euthanized on-site by veterinarians.

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