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Biological warfare research under fire.

Biological warfare research under fire

The Department of Defense (DOD) andits growing efforts in biological-warfare research may have hit a snag last week, when the federal agency agreed to submit its collection of biological warfare research programs to far-reaching environmental impact studies. Agreement to conduct the studies, which are expected to take nearly two years to complete, settles a lawsuit brought against the agency last September by an environmental action group based in Washington, D.C.

The Foundation of Economic Trendsclaimed in its suit that the government was violating the National Environmental Policy Act by not assessing the biological warfare program's effect on the environment. The compromise accepted by both parties last week does not ascribe guilt to DOD; it also allows research to continue during the impact studies.

Nonetheless, foundation presidentJeremy Rifkin sees the decision-- sanctioned by a federal judge--as "one of the broadest victories in history' under the national policy act. "It means DOD is going to have to be held accountable to the public for its entire [biological warfare] program,' he said in an interview. In 1985, Rifkin's group used a similar lawsuit to halt construction of a high-containment laboratory in Utah that had been proposed by the Army (SN: 6/8/85, p.359).

The agreement came two days after abiological warfare symposium at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. At the Chicago meeting, David L. Huxsoll of the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (MRIID) in Fort Detrick, Md., heard charges from symposium attendants that even the development of defensive biological weapons adversely affects foreign relations, and that classified research on such weapons is being conducted at some of the program's participating labs.

The DOD program--which involvesnearly 20 government labs and more than 100 universities and private groups, but is the primary responsibility of the Army-- has an annual budget of about $60 million. Prior to military stockpiling, vaccines and other "defensive' biological weapons are tested in a group of human volunteers at MRIID and then field-tested, according to Huxsoll. He said field-testing for two new vaccines recently began, using volunteers in Argentina and the People's Republic of China. He added that the Army already has sufficient stores of vaccines against tularemia and Venezuelan equine encephalitis to protect both the regular and reserve armed forces.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 28, 1987
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