They believe that USAMRIID is collecting or even creating biological agents that could be developed into an offensive weapons capability, despite the defensive focus of the program.
Some community members appear to have been comfortable with the level of biodefense research conducted at Fort Detrick prior to 2001, but as they have become aware of the expansion of select agent laboratories both at USAMRIID and elsewhere in the United States, they fear that the rapid growth will lead to a weakening of security and safety practices.
USAMRIID is subject to federal law, but not necessarily to local laws and regulations. In displaying confidence that it is working hard to prevent incidents and accidents, USAMRIID leadership is perceived as arrogant by many of its critics. Thus, some in the community feel that the Army, in approving its own construction proposals and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation, has not been responsive to their concerns.
As elsewhere, past incidents and infections have heightened public concern. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) conclusion, several years after the “anthrax letters,” that a USAMRIID insider was responsible for the incidents, demonstrated that a risk the Army was previously unwilling or unable to quantify was indeed real. (Note that the FBI’s public findings on the anthrax mailings came after the publication of the USAMRIID EIS.)
Finally, issues not directly related to USAMRIID’s performance amplify the concerns of many in the community. Neighbors of Fort Detrick, particularly those near its Area B (recently added to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List), mistrust the base leadership because Army pollution has contaminated private wells. They say that Fort Detrick’s slow response demonstrates that the Army does not care about their health. Neighbors also are concerned about other environmental impacts, such as traffic, that are far beyond the scope of this report.
There is concern in the greater Frederick community that USAMRIID, along with other laboratories at Fort Detrick, poses a serious threat to public health and safety. In fact, this is why Congress commissioned this review by the National Research Council (NRC). The committee recognizes that USAMRIID and its proposed expansion enjoy the support of many members of the community beyond its staff, contractors, and retirees, but, at the same time, there is vocal opposition. This has been expressed by elected officials, the editorial staff of the daily newspaper, and by the dozens of citizens who have appeared at a series of public hearings on the subject. It was beyond the scope of the committee’s task to poll the community.
Opponents of laboratory expansion have argued that they would be safer if USAMRIID were to site all or some of its operations in an unpopulated area, but a comparison study is also beyond the committee’s charge. People are concerned