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Posted: 8:07 PM- The Defense Department has made a poor effort to locate and contact thousands of people exposed to chemical and biological agents during a series of secret tests in the 1960s and 70s, including many conducted or facilitated in Utah, according to a newly released federal report.
The tests, kept secret for decades, were part of a program known as Project 112, in which service members and some civilians were exposed to actual and simulated agents.
After decades of disavowing the Cold War project, the Pentagon acknowledged its existence nearly a decade ago. But a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday concluded the military has been slow to notify those who may have been affected and has ended its efforts to find other potential victims - even as outside efforts have found hundreds of others whose long-term illnesses may have been caused or aggravated by their exposure.
The GAO report didn't surprise Douglas Rosinski, who represented a group of veterans who helped to force an end to years of Pentagon silence about the tests.
"For 40 years they said this never happened," Rosinski said. "I think this is the same thing. . . I would be surprised if the government was still being anything other than absolutely reluctant."
The report backs up that sentiment. It says the military arbitrarily ended its efforts to find those who were affected in 2003 - a decision that "was not supported by an objective analysis."
The GAO noted that its own efforts - including an examination of thousands of records being stored at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah - and the efforts of the nonprofit Institute of Medicine have resulted in hundreds of additional people, both military and civilian, being identified.
All of the Project 112 tests , which began in 1962 and ended in 1974, were initiated under the auspices of the Army's Deseret Test Center, at Ft. Douglas in Salt Lake City. Among those tests were Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense, or SHAD, in which number of weapons containing chemical and biological agents such as VX nerve gas, Sarin Nerve Gas and E. Coli were tested on unknowing military personnel on Naval vessels, according to Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who helped prompt a study into the effects of the test four years ago.
That study failed to link the test to the long-term health complaints of the veterans, but Thompson and others contend it also failed to include information on key test participants - in particular those who have died in the past 40 years.
"These veterans deserve to know the truth about what these chemicals have done to their health," Thompson said in a Thursday statement calling for a new round of studies.
The new GAO report doesn't specifically mention the tests conducted in Utah, but another report from 2004 listed eight experiments that occurred at Dugway or involved Dugway personnel.
Dugway spokeswoman Paula Nicholson said the west Utah Army facility hasn't been involved in any searches for relevant records for "several years."
"We have not received any calls regarding information from that project for quite some time," Nicholson said. She said any new requests for information would be referred to the Department of the Army.