6. LETHAL NERVE GAS PRODUCTION IN RESIDENTIAL AREAS

Although the military has been under orders from Congress since 1984 to dispose of nerve gases by 1994, they are currently being manufactured and tested in 46 U.S. communities, in 26 states across the country -- usually without the knowledge of the residents.

For example, Margaret Erickson, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, discovered that Geomet Technologies had been doing research with nerve gases only 100 yards from the local elementary school since 1983. Representative Michael Barnes (D-MD), whose district includes the Geomet laboratory, said, "The Army has indicated that, in effect, it has no policy with regard to the location of the testing facility."

Despite the Congressional order, there has been a boom in nerve gas research in recent years. In fact, chemical warfare funding increased five times to $400 million in 1985. With this financial windfall, universities and medical researchers appear to be falling over themselves to get a piece of the economic action.

Twenty-seven major universities, including four medical schools, have chemical warfare contracts. Fifteen of the sites are licensed for full-strength chemical warfare materials (the others work with diluted substances). Since 1981, accidents have been reported at two facilities -- both licensed for full-strength work.

In March of this year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said that four of eight towns where lethal Army chemical warfare agents are stored aren't prepared to handle emergencies. The CDC official said that one of the sites was in Newport, Indiana, but declined to identify the three others, saying it would "embarrass" elected officials there.

At least 40 of the nerve gas sites situated across the country are located in large metropolitan areas (such as Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, and New Orleans) where an accidental release could imperil thousands of people.

The complicity of four medical schools, the National Center for Toxicological Research, 23 other academic institutions, and the U.S. military in this internationally outlawed chemical warfare production, deserves the attention of the national news media before a truly tragic accident occurs.

SOURCES:

RECON, Winter 1987, "Nerve Gas in Residential Areas," p 9; NEW YORK TIMES, 2/28/85, "Research on Nerve Gas Suspended in Cambridge," p 8 (National); USA TODAY, 3/11/87, "Risks near chemical warfare dumps cited," by Wayne Beissert, p 3A.