Dugway Proving Ground locked down during VX nerve agent scare
A missing vial of VX nerve agent sparked an emergency Wednesday at Dugway Proving Ground, a U.S. military weapons testing facility in Utah. The VX nerve agent was later found, but not before Dugway Proving Ground was locked down overnight. A stockpile of VX nerve agent, the most toxic weapon of mass destruction synthesized by man, was outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.
Missing VX hides in plain sight
Dugway Proving Ground was locked down at 5:24 p.m. MST Wednesday. About 2,200 people were on the base at the time. During inventory, the amount of VX nerve agent on hand did not match up with records. Dugway commander Col. William E. King promptly locked down the 801,505-acre installation for an intensive search. The VX nerve agent was right under their noses. After testing sensor equipment, workers entrusted with the deadly substance put it in a mislabeled vial. A Dugway Proving Ground spokesman said the VX nerve agent was accounted for and no one was ever in danger.
How deadly is VX?
The vial that triggered the commotion at Dugway contained about a milliliter, or one-fifth of a teaspoon of VX nerve agent. The median lethal dose of VX nerve agent is about 734 micrograms through the skin and 30-50 micrograms if inhaled. A single gram of VX nerve agent could kill 200,000 people. VX is viscous like motor oil, so it doesn’t evaporate. If a human is exposed to VX, the toxin destroys the individual’s nerves, and death by paralysis occurs in minutes. The only known human victim of VX was killed in Osaka, Japan, by a member of the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist group in December 1994.
VX remains a threat
VX nerve agent is coveted by terrorists. In 1998 a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan linked to Iraq and Al Qaeda was suspected of attempting to synthesize VX. U.S. military jets destroyed the plant and chemicals used to produce VX were later identified. During the cold war, the U.S. and Russia made enough VX nerve agent to kill all life on Earth several times over. VX was set up for delivery in missiles, artillery shells and land mines. The last of the U.S. VX stockpile was destroyed in December 2008. The U.S. and Germany continue to subsidize Russia’s efforts to destroy its stockpile of VX.