Safety problems in chemical weapons research

Chemical-weapons research is not as safe as it could be, says a Senate subcommittee's staff report. The Pentagon has ``serious deficiencies'' in the way it manages the safety of its chemical and biological warfare research, the report maintains.

The review found ``inadequate regulations, lax safety enforcement, and documented safety lapses,'' said the report by the majority staff of the Senate governmental affairs oversight subcommittee.

Federal spending on the programs has increased sharply during President Reagan's two terms, from about $63 million in 1980 to $348 million in 1986.

The number of laboratories involved in research has also increased. There are about 150 labs doing Pentagon-sponsored research on chemical and germ weapons.

In the biological weapons area, the review found that ``there is no comprehensive set of safety regulations for research'' with biological warfare agents and toxins. The review also found ``no emphasis on safety in the contractor program, and no office that monitors contractor safety.''

For chemical weapons, the approach is better, although it also ``appears to have major shortcomings,'' said the study, which was released Wednesday.

The military has a wide number of safety steps, but many are violated, the study said.

The United States recently began building new chemical weapons, after halting the program in 1969.

The nation produces no germ weapons and has unilaterally renounced the use of biological weapons, but does conduct research into chemical weapons that might be used against American troops.

Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, chairman of the subcommittee, said he plans to hold hearings later this year to discuss the Pentagon's safety practices in the two research fields.

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