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Four inquiries into anthrax allegations demanded

The News Journal

Del. delegation gives Rumsfeld month to report on squalene use

Delaware's congressional delegation officially called for four investigations Thursday into allegations that Dover Air Force Base pilots and crews were used as guinea pigs to test experimental anthrax vaccine.

Sens. Joe Biden and Tom Carper and Rep. Mike Castle jointly sent letters, calling for separate investigations to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the chairs of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office.

"At a minimum, a great deal of unnecessary confusion and anxiety has been caused by the handling of this issue," the letter to Rumsfeld states. "At a maximum, intentional actions or unintentional incompetence may have created a health hazard for our personnel."

The letter to Rumsfeld gives the defense secretary until Nov. 15 to provide a detailed report.

"I'm happy. It's five years late, but well done," said retired Lt. Col. Jay Lacklen, a former Dover C-5 pilot whose health was affected by the shots.

"It's a good first step, but they should halt the vaccination program while they're conducting the investigation," Lacklen said.

Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner said he could not comment because he hadn't seen the letters Thursday evening. The military has denied it tested an illegal vaccine on troops in Dover.

In a written release, the lawmakers cite recent media reports for raising concerns about the vaccination program.

Problems began at Dover in May 1999 after some troops in their 20s and 30s began developing illnesses normally associated with old age.

The News Journal reported Sunday that a former Dover commander, retired Col. Felix Grieder, concluded that his troops were the subjects of illegal experiments at the base. The troops received anthrax vaccine that may have contained squalene.

Neither the military nor the FDA test for squalene, a substance that occurs naturally in the body and has been used to boost a vaccine's effect. Some experts say even trace amounts of squalene can suppress the immune system, causing arthritis, neurological problems, memory loss and incapacitating migraine headaches.

In their letter to Rumsfeld, the lawmakers focused on several issues raised in The News Journal report.

"As part of resolving this issue, we would like to know the results of the research we understand the Department has done on the effects of squalene in vaccines," the letter states. "In addition, it is important to explain the rationale for the Army's decision to seek a patent for a new anthrax vaccine that includes squalene."

Grieder halted the vaccination program in 1999, a move he said brought an end to his military career. Testing by the Food and Drug Administration detected squalene in varying amounts in the vaccine. The substance was detected in all the vaccine sent to Dover, but not in vaccine sent to other military installations.

The Air Force and the Department of Defense have continually stressed the safety of the vaccine, despite the claims of military personnel who say it made them ill.

The military has secretly experimented with squalene to test its ability to boost the effectiveness of some vaccines. The Department of Defense has admitted conducting tests on humans using squalene in vaccines in Thailand. But the military said any contamination in the vaccine in Dover must have occurred accidentally.

The military has said it suspects that the FDA conducted faulty tests and that the vaccine contained no squalene. It also contends that the amounts of squalene the FDA said were contained in the vaccine would have been too small to affect human health.