bookstore1.gif (6054 bytes)

Lake Sun Leader
October 29, 2000

Petitioners sign to halt use of bio agents

By Marsha Paxson

LAKE OF THE OZARKS - Allegations of deformed cows, aborted pigs and human health problems are three reasons why hundreds of spectators at a public forum have signed a petition to halt the use of biological agents on Department of the Army installations in Missouri.

More than 350 people attended a town hall meeting in the Versailles Middle School Thursday, where organizers asked the audience to sign the petition, which will be forwarded to Gov. Roger Wilson.

"We no longer want to be the government's guinea pigs," said Joyce Riley vonKleist. "We demand that the use of these biological agents and other possibly toxic substances be stopped and that the state revoke permits until the public has given its written, conformed consent."

Riley, from Versailles, is a Persian Gulf veteran and flight nurse who served during wartime. She and husband Dave vonKleist, active in the American Gulf War Veteran's Association, presented the informational meeting to let what they call an "unsuspecting public" know about what type of training is going on at Fort Leonard Wood without their consent.

But post officials say the public was informed through public notices and the simulated biological agent being used for training purposes, called bacillus subtilis, is a safe, dead form of the simulant. It is released in water in an aerosol spray through an agricultural-type sprayer.

Fort Leonard Wood spokesman Mike Warren said the simulant triggers a response in a training device called the Biological Integrated Detection System BIDS.

"It drifts in line with the wind and it acts like an agent that is out there in combat so that soldiers can learn to detect and analyze it," Warren said. "Bacillus subtilis contains non-pathogenic bacteria and has been tested to ensure it is not dangerous."

But farmer Betty Adams said recent occurrences on her farm, 20 miles from the post's back gates may prove the training is far from harmless.

Since last December, shortly after the post's chemical units began dispersing the spray, Adams helped birth a five-legged cow.

"It was born with a completely formed fifth leg and hoof coming out of its back," Adams said. "At first we thought it was just a freak of nature thing, but now we're not sure."

Within an eight week period Adams witnessed a still born cow as well as one born two months premature.

"The cow that came early didn't suckle and blood came out its throat," Adams said. "It lived three weeks."

In the same time frame, Adams one sow delivered 13-14 dead babies. Two weeks ago another sow gave birth.

"This time the babies were all born really small and the mother had gone completely dry and couldn't feed them," Adams said. "Only three out of those 12 pigs are still alive."

While some may say it was just a stroke of bad luck on Adams' farm, the family farmer said she isn't taking any chances. The three surviving pigs will be tested for signs of bacillus subtilis in their bloodstream.

If the test results are positive Adams said she will likely hire an attorney to plead her case and fight against the release of any more simulants on the post.

Riley said with the type of training being conducted at Fort Leonard Wood, there is a strong likelihood that farmers miles from the installation, such as those in Versailles, Stover and in local Mennonite communities could be losing cattle. And thousands of Missouri residents could be unwittingly exposed to the agent's toxins, she said.

"The simulant being used on Fort Leonard Wood is a member of the bacillus globigii family, known to cause spontaneous abortions in cattle and sheep and compromise the immune systems of the elderly, chronically ill and young," Riley said. "The bacteria released can travel hundreds of miles and the spores can remain active for decades."

The Department of the Army's Committee on Armed Services contends that the live version of bacillus subtilis can be found naturally in soil, water and decomposing plant residues.

"This substance has been tested extensively and is not considered toxic to humans, plants or animals," said Lt. Col. Everett Maynard, Jr., legislative counsel for the Army.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources spokesman John Young said DNR regulates how much of the simulant can be released, where it can be used and over what time span in an effort to determine a simulant's effect on air pollution quality.

"At the time we issued a permit to Fort Leonard Wood we were told by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control that the simulant being used is not harmful," Young said. "If new information has come to light that would have an effect on the permit we'd have to look at it. And we will."

According to DNR permits, a maximum of four pounds of the simulant can be released in a 24-hour period.

Post officials said trainees only use one pound per 24-hour period and only one day is used for each of the four to five classes held with the simulant each year.

DNR spokesperson Connie Patterson said Fort Leonard Wood complied with its permitting process and provided them with all the pertinent information about the bacteria they were planning to use before the post started BIDS unit training in fall 1999.

Government officials have noted that bacillus subtilis has been used for more than 40 years at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and was used for six years at Fort McClellan, Ala. before the unit transferred to Fort Leonard Wood. No adverse environmental or health effects were reported on those installations.

One of the next installations slated to begin BIDS training with bacillus subtilis is at Fort Polk, La., home of the Army's 7th Chemical Company. They will begin training there in Jan. 2001.

In August the Department of Defense placed a notice in the back of a daily newspaper outside Fort Polk, announcing its plans to begin such training on the 199,000-acre post.

When residents near the installation began questioning the move, Fort Polk officials released an environmental assessment document on the post.

"The proposed training activity poses virtually no risk to human health or the environment," the report reads. "Only three areas at Fort Polk will be used for this training and it will only be conducted in weather conditions favorable to prevent off-post drift of the release. This training would occur only 12 times per year."

Similar back-page notices appeared in newspapers around Fort Leonard Wood and as close to Lake of the Ozarks as Lebanon. None of the notices mentioned bacterial agents nor did they specifically mention bacillus subtilis.

This news surprised Rep. Chuck Pryor, R-Versailles, who said he wants to know more about the training and what agents are being used.

"I want to learn more about the whole picture," Pryor said. "But if this information is true, I will take action."

Pryor said his staff is now contacting residents who live or lived in communities near military installations that currently train or once trained with bacillus subtilis.

"It's important to see what they may have experienced or are experiencing as a possible result of such training," Pryor said. "We need information on bacillus subtilis from unbiased sources as well. We have to look at the big picture and learn all we can to make informed decisions."

Copyright 2000 The Lake Sun Leader. All rights reserved.

Gulf War Vets Home Page