Army Defends Biodefense Lab

GENERIC: U.S. Army, Bio Weapons, Bacteria, Defense, Biodefense
The Army, facing a possible lawsuit over a planned expansion of its top biodefense laboratory, says it has properly studied the potential environmental impact of terrorist attacks on it.

The U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command is the center of military research on the world's deadliest organisms. The Army wants to replace and expand the lab.

But the details of the study on the possible impact of a terrorist attack cannot be disclosed without tipping off potential terrorists about the post's security measures, USAMRIID says.

The statement in the project's final environmental impact statement likely will not stop the project's opponents from a court challenge.

The document does not fully address the implications of terrorist attacks, Kevin Zeese, a social activist and one opponent, said late Wednesday in an e-mail.

The Army document, scheduled for formal approval by Feb. 12, quotes USAMRIID Commander Col. George Korch Jr. speaking at a public meeting Oct. 26. "Potential terrorist acts have been evaluated," Korch said. Without disclosing details due to security concerns, Korch said the post has implemented countermeasures, including tighter security at entry points; armed guards; and multiple checkpoints at buildings, fences and remote parking.

Opponents have cited two recent decisions by a federal appeals court in California. The more recent case, decided Oct. 16, found the U.S. Department of Energy's environmental assessment for a proposed biodefense laboratory in San Francisco was inadequate because it did not consider the possibility of a terrorist attack.

The ruling was similar to the court's ruling in June that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had acted unreasonably in declining to assess the environmental impact of a terrorist attack on a proposed storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in California.

The Army's draft environmental statement for the USAMRIID project, published in August, stated that terrorist attacks "are not reasonably foreseeable" and that an evaluation of their impacts was not required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Ron Bass, a senior environmental planner with a California-based consulting firm, said the Army's revisions do not appear to meet the requirements of the federal court rulings.

"I think that they need to discuss generally — it can be very general — what the impacts of such a problem would be," Bass said.