U.S. cities' officials press Aberdeen for data on sarin

March 22, 1995|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Glenn Small contributed to this article.

Chemical warfare experts at Aberdeen Proving Ground have been swamped with calls from officials of U.S. cities seeking information about the nerve agent sarin, similar toxic chemicals and how to deal with them.

As a result of the suspected nerve agent attack Monday in the Tokyo subway, said James M. Allingham, spokesman for the Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command at Aberdeen, officials from more than a dozen municipalities have asked how to respond to a similar event -- how to equip emergency personnel and what types and quantities of medical supplies to have.

The Federal Transit Administration warned officials in major U.S. cities Monday of possible copycat attacks and urged them to take precautions.

"In these situations, you are never fully prepared," said Lt. Thurman Pugh, spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department.

Baltimore authorities declined to say whether they had sought advice from Army officials at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

In the event of an attack or accident involving toxic chemicals in Baltimore, city contingency plans call for quick contacts with state and federal authorities, Lieutenant Pugh said.

There was also concern in Washington.

"We know that bizarre incidents can and do occur here," said Cheryl Johnson, spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Transit workers undergo "extensive" training, including evacuation drills, for responding to major accidents and other events, she said.

The Washington Metro system carries more than 500,000 passengers each day. About 60,000 people per day ride the Baltimore Metro system and light rail.

U.S. authorities have anticipated such attacks -- and urged preparations -- for nearly 50 years.

Army scientists from Aberdeen and Fort Detrick in Frederick participated in once-secret tests beginning in the late 1940s to gauge the dispersal of chemical and biological agents in major cities.

Aberdeen's Edgewood area, formerly called Edgewood Arsenal, is the U.S. military's center for chemical warfare research.

The U.S. government has offered Japan assistance, but Pentagon officials said yesterday the Japanese government has not yet requested it.

To prepare for such a request, the Pentagon placed the Army Technical Escort Unit at Aberdeen on standby Monday and yesterday, said Pentagon spokesman Maj. Rick Scott.

The unit, which has 107 military personnel and civilians, can respond to neutralize and dispose of toxic chemicals, munitions and other hazardous materials.

In a related matter, U.S. military sources said some Aberdeen experts are questioning whether the chemical used in the Tokyo attack was, in fact, sarin.

Use of that nerve agent has has been widely reported, but not confirmed by Tokyo.

Some of the symptoms experienced by Tokyo subway riders, including bleeding noses and vomiting of blood, are not consistent with exposure to sarin, the sources said.

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