Nerve Gas Next Door

This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email

Nerve Gas Next Door

by the Editorial Collective

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 2, No. 2, August 1970, p. 9

If you drive down Route 3 just off Route 128 in Bedford, Mass., passing some of America’s most sophisticated arms factories, such as MITRE, Raytheon, and Sylvania, you can see an ugly cylindrical tank. The tank is behind The GCA corporation technology division building, on the edge of a brook with benches, trees and grass nearby. Between 1963 and 1969 this tank, called by GCA its “toxic aerosol testing facility”, was used to develop methods of dispersal and detection of chemical warfare agents. The actual poison gases were used in many of the tests, including VX, the most toxic and persistent of the nerve gases. The plant is only about a mile from a local school and just over a rise from a residential district.

On May 14, a group of Harvard students and Bedford residents held a press conference in a nearby church to publicize the nature of GCA’s research. Following the press conference, local television crews and newspapermen went to take pictures of the tank and the story was given good coverage in local papers, radio and television. Students and local residents passed out fact sheets giving the details of the testing program at nearby shopping centers on several days following the press conference to make sure the community knew what had happened.

This action stimulated the local peace group to ask the Bedford Board of Selectmen to create a “Committee on Industrial Safety”. The Selectmen agreed and appointed members of the group to the Committee and asked them to investigate this and other similar dangerous situations and to recommend appropriate action and legislation. The State Attorney General Office and Brad Morse, the local Congressman, have agreed to help the Committee.

The facts were uncovered by students in a section of Harvard’s “Biology and Social Issues” course. Searches through publicly available lists of government contract reports and technical abstracts alerted the students to the tests. Possession of GCA’s technical reports (they were unclassified), a couple of on-site information gathering trips and an inside leak produced an airtight case. GCA which brags about its air pollution control work, also does half a million dollars a year worth of “technical services” for the Army’s Dugway proving ground. Dugway produced the country’s most spectacular CBW accident when 6,000 sheep were killed in Skull Valley when a small amount of VX, the same gas tested in Bedford, was accidentally released.

Research, agitation and propaganda activities are being continued by a group of M.I.T. and Harvard graduate students and people from Bedford.

GCA was a set-up, because everyone could understand why nerve gas endangered the local area. However the Rte. 128 complex provides the most sophisticated weapons production, notably the ABM system, production in the country, notably the ABM system, missile guidance, anti-submarine warfare and the electronic battlefield. Not only does this development activity facilitate America’s murderous imperialistic foreign policy and provide spin-offs which aid domestic repression and control but the economic penetration of the area by war industry means that the continuing economic health of the area depends on continuing war.

Alerting people to the dangers they face, both immediate and long range, will require the concerted efforts of technically trained people in universities and with industrial contacts, the progressive elements in those communities where war industry goes on, and anyone who is willing to do the really important task, face-to-face discussion with those whose lives are affected. It’s hard to counteract years of lies, distortion and obfuscation, but the power of the people is greater than the technology of the man.

Those interested in this type of project should contact: Bill Haseltine and Frank Mirer, cfo SESPA, Box 59 Arlington Heights, Mass. 02175

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