After two years of digging at Fort Detrick, Maryland, officials have uncovered 2,000 tons of hazardous waste, including over 100 vials of live bacteria and viruses, as well as anthrax, that the military says they didn’t know were there. They also found autopsied rats. This is material left over from the U.S. biological weapons program. “When Nixon shut us down, we had a deadline, we were given six weeks to clean up the post. Well you couldn’t do it. People sneaked out to the good area, and dumped it in a pit,” says Hubert Kaempf, the retired Army maintenance engineer who was in charge of cleanup.
A few weeks ago, the FBI found a clear box with holes that rubber gloves could fit through, as well as empty vials, in a Maryland pond near Fort Detrick. Steven J. Hatfill, who is suspected of sending the anthrax letters, once worked there. They think the box was used to put the anthrax into the envelopes underwater, so that the sender would not get poisoned. From the recent find, it’s clear that he, or anyone else who worked there, wouldn’t have had much trouble getting hold of the anthrax.
Workers at Fort Detrick wear biohazard suits and breathe through air hoses. They work inside a specially pressurized and filtered vinyl tent, where they operate bulldozers under blast shields, so they’re protected from small explosions. The site is quarantined for two hours at the end of each day, while the tent’s air is tested for pathogens. Lt. Col. Donald Archibald says, “Nothing that we removed from the pit has been released into the environment.”
When the digging began 2 years ago, the Army expected to find debris such as lab chemicals and incinerator ash. But the bulldozers soon found buried, corroded drums of herbicides and unidentified chemicals, syringes, and lab instruments. There are unidentified substances mixed in with the dirt, which is bleached to kill any bacteria, then sent in sealed containers to a disposal facility in Texas.
Archibald says, who is Fort Detrick’s director of safety, says, “The documentation for where this came from doesn’t exist.”
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