The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

April 26, 2007

Officials speculate chemical at Salt Plains could be mustard gas

Staff and wire reports

JET — Vials of chemicals found at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge may contain diluted types of gases used to train World War II soldiers.

The discovery forced refuge officials earlier this week to close the popular 40-acre crystal digging area.

A spokesman with Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday nothing is definitive yet.

“... we don’t actually know. That’s what the Army response group will be doing, looking at it and trying to find out what they are,” Kevin Devery, supervisory geologist with the Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa, said of the vials.

Members of the Army’s 22nd Chemical Battalion (technical escort) are expected to arrive from Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland today to identify and neutralize the material. They will begin inspection Saturday, refuge manager John Brock said.

One of the vials containing a yellow liquid was uncovered and accidentally broken Saturday by a Boy Scout digging for selenite crystals, Brock said. The material caused the boy to cough and his eyes to burn and his nose to run.

“It was pungent enough to make him run away from it,” Brock said.

Brock said he talked to the boy’s father, and the boy has not experienced any lingering ill effects.

Brock said he and other officials returned to the site later and uncovered as many as 10 more glass vials, which he said are 6 or 7 inches long and sealed on both ends. The vials appeared to have been there a long time, he said.

Between 1942 and 1946, part of the Salt Plains area was used as a practice bombing range by U.S. pilots, although the area where the vials were found was not a part of the range, Corps of Engineers officials said. The area also isn’t known to have been used for testing or storing biological weapons.

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