- The Ministry of Defence is carrying out
germ-warfare trials using live E. coli and other bacteria, which scientists
fear are drifting into residential areas.
- The revelation, which follows an in-depth
study into bacterial releases trials in the Sixties and Seventies, has
prompted calls from MPs for an inquiry into the justification for and safety
of the tests.
- The trials involve releasing bacteria
into the air on MoD land to see if army testing equipment can trace the
- Such germs, whose behaviour mimics biological-warfare
agents such as anthrax, have been shown in a recent independent inquiry
to cause pneumonia, blood poisoning and lung infections if breathed in
by "vulnerable people". MPs and academics studying germ warfare
had believed that all such testing outside secure laboratories had been
discontinued because of their controversial nature and because Britain
has no offensive biological-warfare programme.
- The trials, which have been conducted
since the Eighties, are classified and it is not known how many bacteria
are being released, and how close the test sites are to residential areas.
- Earlier this month, MPs were outraged
by the contents of a report by Professor Brian Spratt, a leading Oxford
University scientist, into MoD germ-warfare trials in the Sixties and Seventies.
His report detailed how bacteria were dropped from aeroplanes over populated
areas and from canisters on the London Underground. The revelation of the
existence of new trials has prompted calls for an MoD investigation into
- "These tests going on now are dubious
at best. They clearly have implications for the environment and human health,"
said Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman. "The
MoD needs to come clean with a justification for these tests and it needs
to be pretty good."
- The tests are believed to involve Bacillus
globigii, which reportedly can cause disease in humans, and a strain of
- For people with breathing problems or
poor immune systems this E. coli strain can used septicaemia, fever, pneumonia
and chest infections.
- "I think these tests are going on
all the time. The whole point of these experiments are for devising new
methods of detection," said Professor Spratt, of the Wellcome Trust
Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease, Oxford.
- The MoD has thousands of acres of land
throughout Britain. But most of the testing is thought to take place at
Porton Down, the secret MoD research centre outside Salisbury.