|From:||Lenny Siegel <firstname.lastname@example.org>|
|Date:||Thu, 13 Aug 1998 15:52:54 -0700|
|Subject:||"BURIED TREASURE" AT ROCKY MOUNTAIN ARSENAL|
This is about a "cleanup" operation about 30 years ago; it illustrates the DOD's philosophy at that time that, in my opinion, remains unchanged today. Jim Knipp <email@example.com>, former head of the Operations Division at the Office of the Program Manager for Demilitarization of Chemical Materiel "BURIED TREASURE" AT ROCKY MOUNTAIN ARSENAL In the early 1960s the Army increased its stockpile of biological warfare agents by growing an anticrop agent at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, California. The agent, spores of Wheat Stem Rust, was harvested by Air Force Personnel dressed to look like farmers. After harvest, the spores were transported to Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA), Colorado, for purification and storage. At RMA the material was separated into weapons-grade spores (subsequently stored) and wheat chaff, still containing viable spores but of a lesser concentration not considered of sufficient strength for use in a weapon system. To dispose of this residue, the Army consulted with the Department of Agriculture; it was important that the living spores be contained until destruction, as their release into the air could cause destruction of the wheat crop throughout Colorado and possibly adjacent states, depending on the winds at the time. The Department of Agriculture advised the Army to put this lower-grade material in the bottoms of a series of trenches 18-inches deep, and then fill in the trenches with soil. The theory was that subsequent rainfall seeping through to the bottom of the ditches would cause the spores to germinate; finding no host, they would die. If the material were buried without being subsequently killed, later inadvertant excavation during the growing season could release the agent and cause massive crop damage. The Army then proceeded to bury and cover this residue in parallel trenches in a 30-acre plot. This operation had the Army code name "Buried Treasure". Some years later (still in the late 1960s, as I recall), the Army decided to check to insure that the residue was still alive. They cross-trenched to locate the original trenches with residue, and moved residue samples into the lab for analysis. They found that the spores were still alive; apparently, the ditches were too deep (about 3 feet deep, as opposed to the Department of Agriculture recommendation of 18 inches) and the ground water had not penetrated to germinate the spores. They "studied" the situation, first re-covering the trenches and marking their locations with wooden stakes. Their study was never concluded; prior to determining a course of action, weeds grew, so the Army bushhogged the weeds, destroying both the weeds and the wooden locating stakes, and losing the residue in the process. The effort now turned to first locating the material (a problem made more difficult by the then recently-enacted laws barring open-air release, so total containment would be required). I believe the commander at the time (a Col. Dismore, as I recall) had the area overflown with Mohawk aircraft bearing infra-red detectors in the hope that some decay that would generate heat was occurring, but the material was not located. Efforts continued into the early 1970s to locate the material. The solution to the problem now required that before destroying the material: a. A plan, to include an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) would have to be prepared for locating the material, b. The plan would have to be reviewed and approved by both Department of the Army (DOA) and the Department of Defense Explosive Safety Board (DDESB), c. A subsequent plan, with EIS/EIA, would have to be prepared for the actual disposal operation, and would also have to be reviewed and approved, again by both DOA and the DDESB. The buried agent was never found. In 1973 or early 1974 the Army suddenly lost interest in locating the material. Col. Dismore had been killed in an aircraft accident, and a new commander had been installed at RMA who was aware of the unsuccessful effort to find the material. Shortly after his installation, he certified that the material had been destroyed; the Army was reticent, even within the agencies concerned, to discuss any efforts to locate the materiel, and apparently had no plans approved for either locating or disposing of the biological waste, leading to the belief that "certification", rather than actual disposal, was to be the solution to the problem. During this entire time the Department of Defense Explosive Safety Board (DDESB) was tasked with oversight of military biological and chemical weapons as well as high explosives. In 1979 I worked closely with the DDESB scientist who monitored those programs since the 1960s into the 1980s. Although he was aware of the burial, he told me he had seen no plans to locate and open any trenches, nor any plans to conduct actual disposal operations; I believe he was also unaware that the agent had been certified as destroyed. Apparently the material, of unknown viability, is still interred at RMA.
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