Critics denounce military study on chaff

RENO, Nev. - Environmental and military watchdog groups denounced a study from the Naval Research Laboratory that found no health risks in the continued use of military chaff.

''The report highlights the Department of Defense's lackadaisical attitude towards human health risks by giving a green light to continued use of chaff while noting that several health questions remain unanswered,'' Grace Potorti, director of the Reno-based Rural Alliance for Military Accountability, said Tuesday.

''Until we have an independent, impartial study of the health effects of chaff, the military should be allowed no additional public land over which to drop chaff,'' she said. ''The studies must either confirm or nullify risks to humans and the environment.''

Made of fiberglass-covered aluminum thinner than a human hair, chaff is ejected from military aircraft to confuse enemy radar.

In Nevada, Fallon Naval Air Station and Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas have used chaff in training missions for decades. Military officials have said the material is essential for realistic training and presents no health risks to the public or animals.

The Air Force plans to expand the use of chaff during pilot training over public and private lands in eastern Nevada and western Utah. Under the Air Force plan, large bundles of the material would be released at lower altitudes and over public and private lands within the Utah Test and Training Range, which extends into Nevada.

A 1998 report from the General Accounting Office, done at the request of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., found that the health effects of chaff on humans and animals is unknown.

The Navy report was in response to the GAO study. Navy researchers found that the ''environmental, human and animal impacts of chaff are negligible, and far less than those from other man-made emissions.''

Critics said the Navy's study is biased.

''The health risks and ecological damage associated with inhalation, ingestion and widespread dispersal of chaff has never been independently researched,'' said Steve Erickson, spokesman for the Downwinders, a military watchdog group.

''We cannot allow rural residents of Utah and Nevada to become guinea pigs for the Department of Defense.''

The coalition this week asked Reid to back an independent study of chaff's effects on the environment.


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