3 more APG employees monitored

Second power failure at labs creates toxin exposure risk

April 13, 2006|By LAURA BARNHARDT | LAURA BARNHARDT,SUN REPORTER

Three Aberdeen Proving Ground employees were sent to a post medical clinic for observation yesterday after a brief power failure might have exposed them to chemical warfare agents that they had been experimenting with, a spokesman for the Army facility said.

The electrical problem was the second in as many days that could have exposed employees at the Harford County Army facility to deadly chemicals.

Yesterday's power failure, reported just before 2 p.m., affected only four laboratories in the building, said George Mercer, an APG spokesman. Three employees were working with small amounts of four chemical warfare agents inside a laboratory box that has an electrically powered ventilation system, he said.

The chemicals were mustard, a blistering agent; GB, a nerve agent; and two other poisonous chemicals, hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride.

The employees, who were wearing protective clothing at the time of the incident, were released from the clinic at the post's Edgewood Area after about two hours of observation, Mercer said. They showed no symptoms of exposure, he said.

Officials were trying to figure out what caused the power outages, according to Mercer. Although the buildings are equipped with backup power, those systems did not turn on because the outages only affected specific areas, Mercer said.

He said that safety employees would be examining wiring and transformers inside the facility. "You literally go through it with a fine-tooth comb," said Mercer.

The power problem on Tuesday was in a different building, but sent two employees working with mustard and a nerve agent, VX, to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Both were released from the hospital yesterday, Mercer said.

"When you're dealing with chemicals, you can't be too careful," the spokesman said. "Equipment failures can happen. But you have to assume the worst - treating it as if there's been an exposure."

The sprawling 72,500-acre military installation on the Chesapeake Bay has been a training base, weapons testing ground and chemical-warfare research center since World War I. It has evolved into a defense industrial park, employing about 10,000 civilians and about 4,000 military personnel, according to Mercer.

For more than 60 years, the proving ground had stored more than 1,600 tons of mustard agent - best known for its lethal effects in the trench warfare of World War I. The stockpile, which occasionally leaked, prompted worries among area residents and strident debates about how best to dispose of it. The Army developed a facility to neutralize the agent chemically, and the last of the stockpile was eliminated last year.laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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