The same facility that accidentally shipped live samples of the deadly pathogen was mixing powerful bomb-making ingredients with everyday kitchen tools, investigators found.
It came as a shock when the U.S. military came clean about one of the worst biodefense screw-ups on American soil in decades — the release of live, lethal anthrax to more than 85 unsuspecting labs. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a complete surprise, given the anthrax’s source.
Dugway Proving Grounds — a massive, 1,300 square mile Army research and testing facility in remote, northwestern Utah — has had throughout its history a number of alarming safety lapses involving deadly chemicals, biological agents, and high explosives.
It’s not just that Dugway failed for more than a decade to follow standard procedures for killing the lethal anthrax bacteria — a long-running blunder that led to the lab shipping around the globe live anthrax samples that were supposed to be dead. (A Pentagon review of that biosafety breach is due this week.)
Internal Army documents obtained by The Daily Beast show that Dugway’s handling of dangerous explosives was so slipshod that Defense Department inspectors in 2014 recommended that a bomb-handling course be “suspended.”
Those inspectors discovered that staffers at Dugway were mixing together potentially lethal “primary” explosives in everyday pots and pans — the kind of gear you’d find in your kitchen, not in a cutting-edge military research facility. And these staffers had no coherent rationale for why they were so casually handling explosives that made nitroglycerin look like Play-Doh.
“People were shocked… It was like: What are you guys doing out here?” a source familiar with the investigation said. “No one could adequately explain why they needed to be f-ing around, making these exotic explosives.”
Col. Ronald Fizer, Dugway’s commanding officer, defended his troops’ methods. “They are unorthodox but have been vetted by experienced synthetic chemists, EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] operators and have been used for eight years in the training of over a thousand EOD personnel, safely and with no mishaps,” he wrote in a November 2, 2014, memorandum.
“The incident was fully investigated and all corrective actions implemented,” added Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Eric Badger in an e-mail to The Daily Beast.
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