State official says ex-military dump could be dangerous

Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2003

FAIRBANKS - A state Department of Natural Resources official says he believes chemical weapons testing equipment will be found at a former military dump site near Fort Greely.

Robert Layne's assessment contradicts the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' characterization of the site as being mostly household waste.

"All the debris on the site indicates testing equipment," said Layne, the agency's land manager for contaminated sites.

The Corps in mid-July plans to excavate the chemical and biological warfare-era dump site, located about 3 miles south of the Gerstle River near the Alaska Highway, spending $500,000 on the project.

Layne has several reasons for disagreeing with the Corps' characterization of the site. He said he's personally seen testing debris at the dump, including parts of a nerve gas detection device and strapping materials associated with chemical warfare.

He also has an official military map from 1959 that designates the site as a dump. He said such a dump would logically contain little household garbage given the activity of the time.

This also was a time when no one sorted garbage for particular disposal, instead dumping everything together in one place, he said.

At the time, troops, some wearing protective gear, were exposed to two types of nerve gas. A bacteria, called bacillus globigii, was released along the Alaska Highway about 20 miles from Delta Junction and eight miles from Healy Lake.

The bacteria was thought to be harmless but was later discovered to cause infections in some people with a reduced immune system.

Shah Alam, a Corps project manager, said military records indicate there is likely no chemical and biological warfare testing equipment at the dump. But just in case they find something suspicious, the Corps has an alternate plan to deal with dump refuse, Alam said.

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