The City of Newkirk plans to make a proclamation against planned chemical and biological testing at at the nearby Chilocco Indian School property at its Nov. 27 meeting.

It is the latest development in a fast-moving reaction to an announcement last week that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to conduct the testing as part of its research into what might occur in the case of a biological weapons attack.

City manager Jane Thomas and Mayor Kirk Brown both broached the subject during Tuesday’s Newkirk council meeting.

Meanwhile, citizens opposed to the testing continued to speak out.

Newkirk resident Brittny Smith was among those protesting during the weekend. She thinks the tests are likely not as harmless as government officials have told the public.

“They say these chemicals are harmless, “Smith said. “But, what about Agent Orange? … it was only supposed to kill vegetation, look what happened there.”

Smith said she believed that the testing would take place regardless of the protests.

“At least we will know we did something and tried,” Smith said. “I’m just hoping and praying it’s as harmless as they say it is.”

The Chilocco property, a former school for Native Americans, is west of U.S. Highway 77 near the border of Kansas and Oklahoma, . The land planned for testing belongs jointly to five Native American Tribes who have an agreement with  lab connected to Oklahoma State University that supports various federal agencies for testing and training, according to the a draft report prepared by DHS.

The testing would take place in January and February, and in June and July of 2018.

Local health official

not worried

The director of the Cowley County City-County Health Department, Thomas Langer, was less concerned about the testing and said it’s a perfectly safe and sound scientific practice. 

Langer worked for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment before his stint with Cowley County.

Langer said upon hearing the news, he immediately read the 58-page report posted by the Department of Homeland Security. He said the report allayed any fears he had about the testing and the chemicals used.

“There’s really nothing to be worked up over,” Langer said. “The chemicals being used, in the amounts they are listing, are nothing to worry about and people shouldn’t be afraid of the language used.”

Langer said there is a major gap in the testing of chemical and biological weapons, and the kind of testing proposed at Chilocco will help emergency management professionals deal better with a possible attack. 

He said the test would allow such officials to determine how safe the public is in the buildings they live and work in. Langer said the tests are very similar to those he assisted the state with at the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Burlington, Kan.

“I think this is a very good thing,” he said. “I’d love to be there to watch them conduct the tests.”

Concerned residents have organized via social media, with a petition against the testing and planned public meetings tonight at 6 p.m. at the Newark Senior Center and 6 p.m. Thursday at the Arkansas City Senior Center.

Homeland Security invites public comments to be emailed to  biotest@hq.dhs.gov. The draft environmental review of the project can be found at www.dhs.gov/national-environmental-policy-act.

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