2 at APG possibly exposed to toxins

Both lab workers given treatment for nerve agents as a precaution

June 02, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Two Aberdeen Proving Ground laboratory workers were sent to a Bel Air hospital yesterday after showing signs of possible exposure to nerve agent, the third incident involving the same tenant at the Harford County military base in the past two months.

The incident occurred at 10:50 a.m. at the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center, a 1.5 million-square-foot research and engineering laboratory for chemical and biological defense. A worker noticed that another's eyes had become dilated, a symptom associated with possible exposure to nerve agent. The workers called 911.

The laboratory has been beset by accidents in recent months. In April, a power outage at an ECBC laboratory temporarily shut down the powerful fans that protect researchers from dangerous vapors. That incident sparked concern that employees could have been exposed to mustard agent, GB, hydrogen cyanide or cyanogen chloride.

A week later, laboratory workers were conducting experiments with phosgene when one of them smelled the gas. Operations were shut down, and emergency personnel later found that the valve on the phosgene cylinder was not completely closed when the bottle was moved from one part of the lab to another.

APG officials were unable to say whether the workers involved in yesterday's incident had been exposed to harmful materials, though officials at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air said late yesterday that both workers had been treated and released.

George Mercer, a public affairs spokesman for the proving ground, said the workers were not in a laboratory but in a glassware room where laboratory equipment is stored and cleaned. He said he thought at least one of the workers was injected with atropine, an antidote to nerve agent, as part of the response procedure.

Base officials said the incident posed no danger to the public, APG employees or residents.

Mercer said the recent incidents are not connected, though the proving ground follows through with investigations.

As part of a full-disclosure policy, base officials issue public notices detailing accidents that require an emergency response. Until the incidents that occurred in April, no such alerts had been sent out since March of last year.

"The ECBC handles a lot of items that are harmful, and in response to that they have tremendous safety precautions and techniques," Mercer said. "The fact that a worker recognized a symptom and said, `We better do something,' on a training and response level, is good."

Residents, who were relieved in March 2005 when the military base became the first to clear its stockpile of deadly mustard agent, continue to be concerned about the potential for mishaps.

"Nobody's trying to shut anybody down," said B. Daniel Riley, a former state delegate and Edgewood resident. "[But] what we want is a safe environment not only for workers but the surrounding community."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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