The reason for the mysterious Dugway Proving Ground lockdown last night was a missing vial of VX nerve agent, says the army base’s public affairs spokesman Al Vogel. The vial was found at about 3am last night and the lockdown was lifted a couple of hours later.
Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) is a US Army base about 90 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, that is used for biological and chemical weapons testing. The center runs regular inventories of the hazardous materials in use in its laboratories, and one of those appeared to uncover a missing vial of VX nerve agent yesterday afternoon. An immediate lockdown was ordered by DPG commander Colonel William King, Vogel says a similar procedure would likely be followed for any missing weapon. The practical reason for the lockdown was to avoid the scenario that someone on the base had acquired the vial without authority, and could transport it off; there was no reason to believe any of the approximately 1500 people on the base had actually been exposed. In practice the vial was found uncompromised – Vogel didn’t say where (although see update — below).
VX is a chemical warfare agent. According to the CDC it is an oily amber liquid that can cause death through inhalation of droplets, by consumption in food, or even by skin contact. It can cause twitching and sweating where it touches the skin, and ultimately convulsions and respiratory failure. Because of a very slow evaporation rate, it’s considered a long-term hazard once released into an environment.
The High Resolution Fly’s Eye Detector, which observed some of the first ultrahigh energy cosmic rays, was based at Dugway Proving Ground.
Update: King has given a news conference at the gate of the base to explain what happened. He says a two person team was using the agent for chemical testing and inappropriately put it back into the wrong container. The people responsible for the error are still meeting with law enforcement officials with the military and the FBI but King says it appears their error was innocent. It took about four hours to re-open the base after the agent was found. “Once I discovered I had the agent I had to make sure there was no malicious intent to put it somewhere else so someone could later steal it.” He adds that he is still investigating to make sure it won’t happen again and is expecting a specialist team from the Army to come and review the base’s procedures. “That for us is still a serious mishandling of our agents,” he says.
Image: Dugway Proving Ground/Ezola via Creative Commons