The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

May 1, 2007

Salt Plains beds yield 130-plus chemical vials

JET — What began as a unique discovery — a few vials of chemical warfare agent training samples buried at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge — is becoming more serious, as more of the vials are found at the crystal digging salt flats.

More than 130 glass vials have been removed from a hole that initially measured 31/2 feet on April 21 when a Boy Scout digging for crystals unearthed a vial that contained a yellow liquid.

The boy accidentally broke the vial, and its contents caused him to cough, his eyes to burn and his nose to run.

The boy is OK and has not suffered long-term effects from the exposure, according to park officials.

Refuge manager Jon Brock ordered an immediate shutdown of the area pending a thorough evaluation of the 10,000 acres by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The entire Salt Plains flats will remain closed until we can be assured there is not a risk to public safety,” said Victoria Fox, a spokeswoman for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Fish and wildlife officials are encouraging people who may have collected vials as souvenirs on earlier visits to the Salt Plains to notify law enforcement.

In a typical year, more than 30,000 people trek to the refuge to dig for crystals.

Army safety specialists from Aberdeen, Md., arrived at the site Friday. They speculated Saturday the job would be completed by the end of the weekend.

But, as they dug further down and widened the hole’s perimeter, they began discovering more vials.

Fox said rain and the possibility of lightning postponed work at the dig site Tuesday.

Army specialists reported Saturday the vials were part of 200,000 kits made by the military between 1929 and 1969 to train soldiers to identify chemical agents they might encounter in war.

The Army has destroyed its remaining stockpile of the kits — about 20,000 in all — but has been unable to account for other kits that were disposed of by burial, said Karen Drewen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency.

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