The Utah Office of tourism describes their state as “a place of unfathomable natural beauty – with its unique natural formations, national parks, colorful history and culture, and exciting recreation opportunities.” (1)
However, what they fail to mention is the Utah is also home to the Genesis probe crash site, an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray observatory, and massive sheep burial ground; all of which are located at the Dugway Proving Grounds; a U.S. Army facility constructed to test a wide variety of the country’s most dangerous weapons. Such tests are likely still occurring at the military facility today.
According to the U.S. Army, the Dugway Proving Grounds was established in 1942 when the military wanted to expand its research into chemical and biological weapons. The original 126,720-acre site was officially activated on March 1, 1942 and weapons/defenses tests began roughly three months later.
“Important projects during this early period included testing incendiary bombs, chemical weapons, and modified agents as spray disseminated from aircraft.” (2)
Since then, the facility has grown to encompass 798,214 acres and is only about 13 miles from the 2624 sq. mi. Utah Test and Training Range, creating the largest military presence in America. Though the site has grown significantly since the 1940s, its research seems to have stayed focused on the research of chemical and biological weapons and defenses.
Though the Army chronicles the proving grounds’ long history of weapons testing, it leaves out the mishaps that occurred at the site. The most infamous incident stemming from the facility is known as the “Dugway Sheep Kill Incident.” The incident occurred in 1968, when nearly 6,500 sheep died after an intentional release of a nerve agent from an aircraft. (3)
Causes of the Massive Kill
At first, the army tried to blame pesticides on the massive kill, but animal autopsies proved it was a nerve agent that killed the animals; forcing the Army to pay ranchers for their losses. However, it was not known how many people, if any, were affected by the release.
The following year, several individuals voiced their concerns at a congressional hearing over a separate incident. It seems that many species of animals in the area were contracting Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis (VEE).
This disease is usually confined to horses and was only found in the United States in rats in Florida. Speculation was that VEE, like VX, was used in open-air tests at Dugway. Such incidents are not confined to the distant past.
Just last year, January 2011, the entire facility was locked down, no one in and no one out, when a vial of VX nerve agent went missing! The vial, containing about 1 mL of the nerve agent, was missing for 12 hours before being located. (4)
In a statement to the media, the Army tried to down play the missing vial by describing it as less than ¼ of a teaspoon. Though the conversion is accurate, ¼ of a teaspoon (or 1 mL) of VX nerve agent can go a long way. The Emergency Response to Terrorism provides acute exposure guidelines for VX in the table below. (5)
Note: Click on the table to increase the viewing size.
Dangers of Dugway
A little rough math and the amount of VX that went missing in ppm is about 1.001142303, enough to definitely create a mass tragedy.
It seems that the Dugway Proving Grounds can be described as a necessary evil. Not to imply that the staff or its research is evil, but rather that such a dangerous facility is needed in today’s modern warfare. Since its inception in 1942, military leaders saw a need to research chemical and biological weapons and defenses.
Unfortunately very few facilities, whether industrial or military, can conduct their operations without at least one incident during the life of their operations. However, the chemical and biological testing that occurs at Dugway is so dangerous that when an incident occurs, it can easily lead to a massive loss of life.