- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The U.S. Army and Utah air quality officials are taking public comment on plans to release chlorine and low levels of radioactive gas at a military testing range in western Utah next year.

According to state and military officials, the gas and chlorine released at Dugway Proving Ground would remain at safe levels.

The tests would be done on remote areas of the 1,300-square-mile testing range where there are few plants or trees to attract birds. Any animals in the area would be removed before the tests, and noisemakers and other devices would keep them away, Dugway officials said.

Both tests still need approval from military and civilian agencies before they can occur. If approved, the tests would take place in the summer or fall of 2015.

No organizations or groups have come out formally opposed to the tests, but the group Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment is reviewing the radioactive gas test. President Brian Moench said his group would work to stop the radioactive gas test if it’s possible that Utah residents could be exposed to even small amounts of radiation.

At a public hearing in Tooele last week, Dugway officials said the radioactive gas released at Dugway Proving Ground would be low enough to equal the levels of radioactive exposure a person receives when undergoing an X-ray.

David Blanchard, a manager of the Dugway project, said the gas release will test a U.S. Navy sensor that detects extremely low levels of radiation.

The radiation in each test would range from what’s released during a dental X-ray to that of a full body scan, Blanchard said.

The radioactive gas would be released in a southeast area of Dugway when winds are forecast to blow to the northwest.

Blanchard said that would ensure that any radiation traveling beyond a planned safety zone would still have to cross the rest of Dugway and the western Utah desert before approaching populated areas and the Nevada border.

The radiation is expected to spread over 3 miles and fall below naturally occurring levels.

The Army has held public meetings about the test and is planning another one in Wendover on Nov. 6.

Public comments will be incorporated into an environmental assessment, which will be released to the public before the test is approved, according to The Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/12Jswvt).

The other test, a planned release of chlorine, awaits a permit from the Utah Division of Air Quality.

If the permit is approved, air quality officials would require Dugway to install chemical monitors to make sure the amount of chlorine released is well below levels that are harmful to humans.

Army officials plan to put cars and structures in the chlorine’s path to see how the chemical affects them, according to planning documents.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is partnering with the Army on the test, which will show what could happen if a rail car or large container released a poisonous gas in an urban setting.

Utah air quality permit manager Marty Gray said the agency’s permits will only allow tests in specific weather conditions with low winds.

“We’ve got a lot of conservatism built in to make sure this is safe,” Gray said.

The air quality division is accepting public comments on the test through Nov. 14. No public hearings have been scheduled, but the division will hold one if someone requests it.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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