Survey of Reported Chemical and Biological Contamination at the Fort Greely Gerstle River Test Center

LCD-80-25: Published: Nov 30, 1979. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 1979.

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Biological and chemical warfare testing occurred at the Fort Greely Gerstle River Test Center in Alaska until the late 1960's. Some of the agents tested included nerve agents, mustard gas, and biological substances. The land was declared to be excess in 1972 and scheduled for return to the public domain as soon as it could be certified as free of contamination. This proved to be impossible, however, because the essential records which provide details on the tests were not available.

Records of the testing period at the Center were incomplete and subsequent records were so poor that the Army could not certify that the land was free from contamination even though three cleanup efforts had been made. The Bureau of Land Management and the General Services Administration will not accept contaminated land. In 1979 the land was removed from excess status because of the lack of certification, and it is currently being used by the Army for nonbiological testing. No tests have been performed at the disposal sites to insure that they are completely decontaminated. If canisters of a chemical agent should surface, decontamination gear and treatment are not available at the Center. Although they are available at Fort Greely, a 15-minute helicopter ride away, they would be of little use because a person exposed to the chemical agents could die within 5 minutes of exposure.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should require tests to insure that all debris buried in the pits at Gerstle is in fact neutralized and that no contamination has spread from the confines of the pit areas. If contamination is found, he should direct that all contaminated areas be exhumed and the contents decontaminated again. The Secretary should require that emergency treatment equipment be maintained at the Center and that the Center's permanent personnel be trained in its use. The quantity of supplies should be sufficient to treat the maximum number of personnel which could be exposed to chemical or biological contamination at any time. The Secretary should insure that lands used for chemical and biological testing are not returned to the public domain without first having been decontaminated and a clearance certificate provided. He should determine which lands returned to the public domain were used for such tests, and if these lands were not verified as being free of contamination, take all steps necessary to decontaminate the land and prepare the proper certification. Finally, the Secretary should require that existent and future records pertaining to chemical and/or other substances harmful to life be kept permanently. These records should be kept in a readily retrievable form.

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