By SHANE FARLEY and DAKOTAH DAVIS
Abandoned buildings at the former Chilocco Indian School in Oklahoma – a few miles south of Ark City – have been chosen for use in U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security tests on the ability of biological weapons to penetrate houses and other residential buildings.
The study includes plans for a low level outdoor release of inert chemical and biological simulant materials, according to the Homeland Security website. These releases are scheduled for January or February and June or July of 2018. A total of three releases are planned over a one- to two-week period for each of two buildings.
Dept. of Homeland Security Science and Technology is working with Oklahoma State University’s University Multispectral Laboratories, LLC. on the project.
Public comments on the plan are being accepted now until Dec. 8. You can comment here.
Chilocco’s campus was chosen, according to a 58-page environmental assessment report on the project, because testing materials could be released from a distance with minimal “environmental impact and public exposure.”
Chilocco is also no longer in use and is basically an abandoned town with more than 30 buildings, according to the assessment.
Two buildings at Chilocco, a three-bedroom residential home and a two-story apartment building, have been renovated for use in testing.
Renovations to the residential home were made this summer by University Multispectral Laboratories. That building was made to conform to standard building codes while following guidelines for Protection of Historic Properties.
Improvements included replacement of doors, windows, repair of roofs and internal HVAC systems.
“The buildings on the Chilocco campus used in this program include characteristics that are representative of residential and apartment buildings within the United States,” the document reads.
The project, according to the document was planned with public safety in mind.
“Particulate release at the site is designed to mimic that of an actual biological release and will be bound by the following conditions. These release conditions were developed to ensure that the aerosol cloud generated, with both inert and biological simulants, would provide a measurable signature that would then rapidly decrease below the Occupational Safety and Health Administration permissible exposure limits values before reaching the property boundary, thereby these releases would pose no risk to public and minimal risk to the surrounding environment.”
The releases could be harmful to some birds in the immediate vicinity, according to the assessment.
Access to the site will be restricted to government staff, contractors and University Multispectral Laboratories workers. Most personnel involved will be positioned outside and upwind of the release zone.
Anyone involved in conducting the release will wear protective suits, masks and gloves. Those in areas where exposure is above acceptable levels, will wear a respirator.
The release point is to be positioned at maximum distance from the nearest pond and any aquatic life. The skies must be clear with no rain in the forecast and wind should be from south to north between two and 12 miles per hour, according to the document.
Total particulate matter disseminated will be limited to 600 grams or less over a 10-minute period per release. Any release will take place when there are no people working in the fields north of the Chilocco campus.
The document also includes a description of the materials to be dispersed. That includes:
Titanium dioxide – a white odorless powder said to be non hazardous.
Urea powder with fluorescent brightener – the material, according to the Dept. of Homeland Security – is considered non-toxic and non hazardous.
Bacillus Thuringiensis Kurstaki – a bacterial insecticide that has been barcoded so that it can be identified after release. This is the biological material to be used in the tests.
“These spores resemble and act like deadly pathogens, but they are safe, found in nature, and are used in organic gardening practices,” according to the document.
The biological material being used is meant to mimic the behavior of material released in an anthrax release. Collection methods used in the study, after releases are conducted, will be the same utilized should there be a biological terrorist attack involving anthrax.
Information gathered by the study is to be used in the department’s pre-attack and post-attack response planning. The months chosen for the study will give scientists data for both high-humidity and low-humidity weather.
Currently, according to the proposal, there is a lack of data and understanding as to how much a person’s home can protect them in the event of biological attack.