Homeland Security plans outdoor chemical tests in northern Oklahoma

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NEWKIRK, Okla. (KAKE) -

Residents in Oklahoma and Kansas are concerned over the Department of Homeland Security's plan to conduct outdoor chemical tests near the state line.

A draft of the study on the DHS website states the proposed tests will be conducted in early 2018 and in summer 2018 at the former Chilocco Indian School campus near Newkirk (map here). The study will include low level outdoor release of inert chemical and biological simulant materials.

Homeland Security officials said he particles are colorless, odorless and non-toxic materials. The purpose of the study is to gather data that enhances the department’s predictive capabilities in the event of a biological agent attack.

KOCO in Oklahoma City reports many people called their newsroom and sent messages, saying they are concerned about the safety of people living in the area. One person called the KAKE newsroom on Thursday to express their concern. 

A petition has been started on Change.org to stop the testings. Nearly 850 had signed as of Thursday afternoon. 

"They say it's enert [sic], but I'm just not comfortable with this for one not much info has been given out or explanation of what exactly will be happening. I think their should be a town hall meeting over this," Arkansas City resident Shawn Harhouf wrote on the online petition. 

Dee Kolanek wrote, "I have family in Newkirk and surrounding areas. There are too many questions that need to be addressed by the Dept. of Homeland Security."

The public has from November 8 to December 8 to voice their concerns to Homeland Security. Email your comments to biotest@hgdhs.gov. Using preceding email link with automatically generate "Outdoor Testing at Chilocco" in the subject line. You're asked to include your name and address. 

You can also mail your comments to: 

S&T CBD Mail Stop 0201
245 Murray Ln SW
Washington, DC 20528-0201

The Department of Homeland Security released the following information to KAKE News:

Why are they doing these tests?

A strategic goal of DHS is to prevent, detect, protect, and recover from biological attacks. Characterizing the impact of biological weapons on infrastructure is a key element to achieving this goal. Current models are based on penetration of natural particulate matter (largely road dust, pollen, and exhaust), which is not representative of scenarios in which a terrorist might release a biological agent. To address this gap, DHS S&T will conduct an outdoor release of inert chemicals and biological materials in order to estimate the fraction of spores that penetrates into buildings representative of both a typical single and multi-family residence to support consequence and risk assessment modeling.

This testing seeks to enhance resiliency and preparedness of the nation by increasing our ability to predict the extent to which an intentional release of a biological agent may penetrate single family and multi-family structures. The results from this testing effort will further inform and advance preparedness for bioterrorism events in critical infrastructure for future response and recovery planning decisions and actions by local, state, and federal emergency managers.

What is being released?

Testing will be conducted through the release of (2) different non-hazardous, non-toxic, and non-reactive powders and a harmless biological particulate.  These materials are meant to simulate the behavior of harmful biological materials as they move from the outdoors into buildings.

These are:

  • Inert Particle 1 is titanium dioxide (TiO2), a white odorless, non-hazardous, non-flammable, and non-reactive powder that does not dissolve in water. Titanium dioxide is commonly used in paints, food, cosmetics, and insecticides.  As an example, sunscreens containing titanium dioxide are recommended by medical experts to effectively block certain harmful UV rays.[1] Titanium dioxide is not regulated or defined as a toxic or hazardous material.
  • Inert Particle 2 is a 90:10% mixture of urea powder with CL Fluorescent Brightener 220. Urea is the main chemical found in human and mammalian urine and is used worldwide as a fertilizer. CL Fluorescent Brightener 220 is an non-hazardous optical brighter found in toothpastes and laundry detergents to make whites appear brighter.
  • The Biological Particulate will be a preparation of Bacillus thuringiensis subsp kurstaki (Btk) spores that have been "barcoded".  Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki is a microbe found on plants and in soils everywhere, is non-hazardous to humans, and used widely by farmers nationally to kill specific crop destroying insects, particularly those employing organic gardening practices.  These spores can be purchased for home-use at stores selling gardening supplies, and are considered safer than traditional chemical pesticides.  The "barcode" in these materials will allow DHS and our performer to conclusively identify the material we use from any that might occur naturally or be used by a farmer on nearby fields. This material simulates the kind of material that might be used in a bioterrorist attack on U.S. citizens.

Are these materials safe?

Yes.

The particles are colorless, odorless and non-toxic materials. They have been used in numerous other studies both indoors and outdoors to assess airflow and contaminant spread. The direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental effects caused by the potential exposure of terrestrial wildlife, vegetation, water resources, and air quality by movement of the material by any of the particulates will not have an adverse effect. This is due to both selection of the test materials and limited quantity that will be used.

Native Btk, sold under the commercial name of Dipel, is used extensively as a bioinsecticide and is not considered a hazard by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The barcoded variant provides much more specific detection and identification from background than the native organism, as it contains a barcode that does not affect any physiological function or phenotypic expression of the organism. It will be dispersed in a similar manner to that of native Btk when used as an insecticide. However, release will be at much lower concentrations than typical insecticidal application rates. The use of the barcoded Btk has been approved for use in this program by the State of Oklahoma's Department of Agriculture, Food, & Forestry.

Why are these tests being performed at Chiloco?

The Chilocco campus and surrounding land is under the ownership of the Council of Confederated Chilocco Tribes (CCCT) which include the Kaw Nation, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, the Pawnee Nation, the Ponca Nation, and the Tonkawa Tribe. DHS S&T and OSU-University Multispectral Laboratories L.L.C. (UML) have been in communication with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and CCCT and have determined that the implementation of the preferred alternatives has no adverse impact on resources, human health or the environment.

The buildings on the Chilocco campus used in this program include characteristics that are representative of residential and apartment buildings within the United States. Additional characteristics desired for test buildings include:

  • minimal proximity to the public,
  • unoccupied from daily use,
  • have release positions in the predominant wind direction,
  • no obstructions within 20 meters of the building,
  • centrally located to campus to ensure plume dissipation below permissible exposure limits prior to migration off campus,
  • Access to the site will be restricted to UML, Government staff, and contractors supporting this study.

Who is paying for these tests?

These tests are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

When and where will these releases occur?

The release activities would take place at the abandoned Chilocco campus in rural Oklahoma during February 2018 and then again during June/July, 2018. This site is closed to the general public under an exclusive use agreement between the site's tribal owners, the CCCT, and UML.

Particulate release at the site is designed to mimic that of an actual biological release and will be bound by strict conditions. These release conditions were developed to ensure that the aerosol cloud generated, with both inert and biological simulants, would provide a measurable signature that would then rapidly decrease below the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure limits (PEL) values before reaching the property boundary, thereby these releases would pose no risk to public and minimal risk to the surrounding environment.

Was this study evaluated under the National Environmental Policy Act?

It will be. The Environmental Assessment that has been published by DHS, and available for review at https://www.dhs.gov/national-environmental-policy-act, is part of the process to comply with requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.  Assuming that after public comment, a finding of no significant impact is found, the proposed tests will have complied with the requirements of the law.

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