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Open-Air Bioweapon Tests Reported

October 09, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The United States held open-air biological and chemical weapons tests in at least three states--Alaska, Hawaii and Utah--during the 1960s in an effort to develop defenses against such weapons, according to Pentagon documents.

Tests in Alaska from 1965-67 used artillery shells and bombs filled with the nerve agents sarin and VX, records show.

The Defense Department planned to release summaries of 28 chemical and biological weapons tests at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.

The documents did not say whether any civilians had been exposed to the poisons. Military personnel exposed to weapons' agents would have worn protective gear, the Pentagon says.

The Pentagon previously acknowledged that it had conducted biological and chemical tests, but this was the first time it disclosed that some tests were conducted over land and not out at sea.

The tests were part of Project 112, a program in the 1960s and '70s to test chemical and biological weapons and defenses against them. Parts of the testing program done on Navy ships were called Project SHAD, or Shipboard Hazard and Defense.

The tests were directed from the Deseret Test Center, part of a biological and chemical weapons complex in the Utah desert.

Some of those involved in the tests say they now suffer health problems linked to their exposure to dangerous chemicals and germs. They are pressing the Veterans Affairs Department to compensate them and the Defense Department to release more information about the tests.

In response to pressure from veterans and Congress, the Pentagon began releasing details of the tests last year. Earlier this year, the Defense Department acknowledged for the first time that some of the 1960s tests used real chemical and biological weapons, not just benign stand-ins.

"The Cold War era experiments of Project SHAD ... must be aggressively investigated in as open and transparent a manner as possible," said the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

The Defense Department has identified nearly 3,000 soldiers involved in tests disclosed earlier, but the VA has sent letters to fewer than half of them. Officials said finding the soldiers has been difficult.

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