- BOCA CHICA KEY
- They worry about allergies and immune system difficulties and ailments
yet to be diagnosed.
- A few bolted for points north; others shuttered windows
and stayed inside.
- Word that the U.S. Army was conducting biological and
chemical detection tests off Key West last week -- using a crop duster
to spray what it says are benign substances over a small swath of the Gulf
-- set alarm bells ringing for some on this island chain.
- ''Monday I had my house closed up all day and the air
conditioner running because I was concerned and I couldn't find out what
was going on. The newspaper didn't say exactly where they were dropping,''
said Bill Eardley, a retiree who lives on Sugarloaf Key. "If I had
known in advance, and I was concerned, I would have jumped in a car or
plane and gotten out of here.''
- Using a small plane to release egg white powder, clay
dust, ethanol, irradiated vegetable spores and a chemical compound commonly
found in drugstore cosmetics -- all designed to simulate more ominous compounds
-- Army and Environmental Protection Agency researchers were trying to
determine whether civilian Doppler and drug interdiction radars can tell
the difference between a raincloud carrying moisture and a cloud carrying
something more ominous.
- The experiments -- concluded last week -- were deemed
a success, though the Army still says it needs to conduct an additional
$15 million to $20 million worth of testing in the U.S.
- Researchers are hoping software could be attached to
civilian radars like those used by the National Weather Service to alert
military and civilian authorities to unusual chemical or biological events
- But some locals greeted the tests themselves as a kind
of preliminary attack.
- ''The weirdest thing I heard from a couple of people
was that spores can travel 1,300 miles. They said that there was a spore
release in Texas that arrived in Florida,'' said Mickey Morales, an Army
spokesman who was on hand for the drill. ``Some people have told me they
have left the area or they have recommended to people that they leave the
- It probably didn't help matters locally that the Pentagon
went public with details of the tests less than a week before they began.
- AN EXPOSE
- A few days earlier, a free Key West newspaper carried
a front-page exposé on suspicious, Keys-photographed contrails that
sources -- including an unnamed wife of a Navy service member -- insisted
were actually ''chemtrails'' that could be the results of secret military
- Some worried residents contacted the Army, the media,
municipal officials, the EPA and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson with their concerns
-- prompting Nelson's Washington office to inquire about the nature of
the tests, Morales said.
- Last week, it was Morales' job to make the words ''military
experiment'' seem palatable.
- It was a challenge in some quarters.
- ''A lot of people have claimed they have read X, Y, and
Z on the Internet,'' Morales said. ``Somebody called me on his cell phone
and wanted to know if it was OK to go boating.''
- Liz Holloway's neighbor on Sugarloaf Key ''evacuated''
to a place north of the Everglades when she heard the tests were imminent.
- ''She has chronic fatigue syndrome and thought it might
exacerbate her condition,'' Holloway said. ``Am I worried I am going to
get sick 15 years >from now? Maybe. But who knows?''
- LITTLE NOTICE
- Holloway said she would have liked more advanced notice.
- ''My major problem was that I read the stuff in the newspaper
and I called the agencies that were supposed to be responsible for the
activity, and even their public information officers had no clue what was
going on,'' she said. ``I don't begrudge them that they have to do this
kind of thing, but at least give us a choice to not be here.''
- Some in the Pentagon considered forgoing the public information
campaign altogether, said Col. Stephen V. Reeves, program executive officer
for the Chemical and Biological Defense program. Reeves was in the Keys
Thursday to monitor testing.
- 'I received [a recommendation] from counsel, `Maybe we
should just go ahead,' '' Reeves said. ``I decided not to do that. If we
had been quiet about it and somebody had suddenly discovered it, it would
have confirmed everybody's worst suspicions.''
- The decision on how to publicize the tests apparently
went all the way up the chain of command to Secretary of Defense Donald
H. Rumsfeld's office.
- And so, last week, a steady parade of Keys residents
was escorted to a blue tent pitched next to a government RV across U.S.
1 from the entrance to the Boca Chica Naval Air Field.
- In an effort to allay local fears, Morales made a run
to a local grocery, picking up an angelfood cake, Visine eyedrops and a
mud mask of the kind used to combat acne -- all of which he said contained
- ''You can go to the supermarket and buy this stuff basically,
except for the dead spores,'' he explained.
- NOT SATISFIED
- The explanation didn't entirely satisfy Debora Edholm,
the wife of local Navy employee who says she has seen and photographed
hundreds of ''chemtrails'' of dubious origin.
- Thursday afternoon, Edholm and a friend were escorted
down a winding and wooded path, past a fence that's usually chained and
beyond the sharp cries of a mother hawk to the blue tent where researchers
were communicating by radio with pilots and radar operators involved in
- Next to radio consoles, maps and computer equipment were
jars containing examples of the compounds the Army dispersed in the tests.
- ''I have done a lot of research on what vitamin supplements
to take to combat the chemtrails. I get exhausted,'' Edholm explained.
``A lot of people down here are sick, you know. A lot of people think they
are doing this to take out weak people. It's population control.''