Thursday, January 27, 2011

US base locked down over missing nerve agent

Thu Jan 27, 1:32 pm ET

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – A US Army base which carries out tests to protect troops against biological weapons was temporarily locked down after a tiny amount of a nerve agent was reported missing, officials said Thursday.

The Dugway Proving Ground in Utah was sealed Wednesday after a routine inventory check on sensitive materials found that a vial with less than 1 milliliter -- a quarter of a teaspoon -- of the VX nerve agent was missing.

The amber-colored agent is an odorless, tasteless oily liquid which affects the body's ability to carry messages through the nerves. People can be exposed through skin contact, the most toxic way, as well as through inhalation.

"As a precaution, the commander immediately locked down the installation and began efforts to identify the cause of the discrepancy," said a US Army statement.

The missing vial was found at 3:00 am (1000 GMT) in the laboratory, it said, adding: "All personnel are uninjured and safe. The public is safe as well."

Before the vial was traced, authorities at the base -- where some 1,500 people work, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Salt Lake City -- had said the lockdown was ordered "to resolve a serious concern within the Test Area."

The facility carries out tests to protect troops against biological attacks, such as those the United States feared could be used by Saddam Hussein's forces when it invaded Iraq in 2003.

US authorities have long been concern to prevent chemical, biological or nuclear materials getting into the hands of extremists who could use them to attack the United States.

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