VX nerve agent scare prompts emergency lockdown at U.S. Army base

Posted Feb 3, 2011 by Shawn Kay
A missing vial containing deadly VX at a Army base in Utah triggered a lockdown at the facility until officials gave the all-clear upon finding the vial hours later.
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The United States Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, went into a full-scale lockdown last Wednesday evening after a vial of VX was discovered missing during a routine inventory check.
The military facility, located 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, commenced an emergency shutdown and a massive search for the missing vial at around 6 p.m. MST
More than 1,000 employees were held at the base during the search and heavily armed military police stood guard and halted outside traffic from entering the facility at checkpoints.
The dramatic search and lockdown finally concluded at around 3 a.m. MST on Thursday morning when the missing vial was found on the base.
According to a preliminary investigation by Army officials, the cause of the vial's non-appearance during the inventory check was because it was mislabeled.
"Early this morning we determined that in fact we had not lost an accountability agent it was just mislabeled into a different container that was improperly marked," said U.S. Army Col. William King during a news conference held on the base at the conclusion of the crisis.
King also said that an investigation into the incident was underway and described the whole affair as a "serious mishandling" of the toxic agent.
A news release from the base itself, intended to explain and summarize the events of that evening said,"during a routine inventory of sensitive material in the chemical laboratory, Dugway officials discovered a discrepancy between the records and the agent on-hand. As a precaution, the commander immediately locked down the installation and began efforts to identify the cause of the discrepancy."
The Army also released a statement saying that none of the staff at the facility were injured and the public was not at risk.
The emergency involving the missing vial of VX was entirely confined to the military facility and involved no cities or non-military persons outside of the base.
The Dugway facility is reportedly 800,000 square acres and equivalent in size to the U.S. state of Rhode Island.
The facility serves many functions for the U.S. military. Some of those functions include serving as a training facility for the Army Reserve and the National Guard as well as a bombing range.
Dugway also happens to be one of the U.S. military's premiere defense and training facilities for threats involving chemical and biological weapons.
The Army Test and Evaluation Command center is housed at Dugway and conducts training and tests of biological and chemical weapons, including, apparently, VX.
In fact, serving as a training facility for biological and chemical weapons defense appears to be a very significant aspect to the facility's existence.
According to the Dugway Proving Grounds official website, the facility describes it's vision statement as, "Rendering Danger from Chemical/Biological Agents Irrelevant."
What is VX?
To know VX is to understand why a small misplaced vial of it would trigger a massive crisis of such a magnitude that it would cause the lockdown of a military base several times larger in size than New York City.
VX (O-ethyl S-[2-(diisopropylamino)ethyl] methylphosphonothioate) is a chemical warfare agent belonging to the chemical weapons class known as nerve agents.
The nerve agents are the deadliest class of chemical weapons.
In it's natural state VX is an odorless liquid with the appearance of motor oil or pancake syrup. However, through very high temperatures or weaponization methods it can develop into a lethal vapor or gas.
It only takes an amount as small as 30 micrograms or a single drop to cause fatality. Because of this fact, VX has the dark distinction of being the deadliest chemical weapon in existence.
According to statements released by Army officials, the misplaced vial at Dugway contained less than one milliliter of VX, or roughly the amount of a quarter-teaspoon.
VX functions by attacking and seizing control of the Central Nervous System which happens to be responsible for all functions of the body.
VX causes the body to literally go haywire by exciting and overstimulating all nerves and muscles to the point of eventual exhaustion. At the point of absolute exhaustion the body is simply too tired to work and may go into paralysis as it begins to rapidly shutdown with death following quickly.
VX can cause death in a matter of minutes - a very unpleasant and painful death.
However, all is not bleak and there is a chance of survival for the victim if prompt and proper medical treatment is received.
Unfortunately, even if someone is lucky enough to beat the odds and survive VX, they are likely to suffer permanent brain damage that could range in severity from being minor to outright disabling.
The U.S. has signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which outlaws the stockpiling and use of such weapons. However, the CWC does allow nations to maintain small amounts of VX and other chemical weapons for the purposes of scientific and medical research as well as to train and prepare soldiers and domestic emergency responders on how to defend themselves and others in an attack.
More information on VX can be found at the Center for Disease, Control and Prevention (CDC) official website (highly recommended). The VX page at Wikipedia is a decent primer on this subject, though as with anything on Wikipedia it's recommended that it not be the lone and absolute source you refer to.