Precede MOSCOW URGENT
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The State Department has strong ″indications″ the chemical powder allegedly used by the Soviet Union to trace the movements of U.S. diplomats in Moscow may have been used by Soviet agents in the United States as well, a congressman said today.
Rep. Dan Mica, D-Fla., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs International Operations subcommittee, said, ″I have been told there is one highly possible use (of the chemical) in the United States. ... There are indications it has been used outside of Moscow, in the United States.″
But he told a news conference that the State Department did not give him any details of where and when the chemical may have been used and for what reason.
Mica also said that preliminary medical findings are that the use of the yellowish-orange powder may have placed Soviets agents at greater health risk than any Americans who were their targets.
And he said that the only reason the United States discovered this spring that the Soviets had begun to use the tracking substance heavily was that the Soviets ″made a mistake″ and applied so much of the chemical at an unidentified site that the powder became visible.
He said there are no indications that any U.S. agency has ever used the substance, which he described as having a distinct ″chemical footprint.″
Mica said he was told today by Dr. Charles Brodine, the State Department’s chief medical adviser, that there is a ″very low probability″ the health of any U.S. personnel in Moscow has been adversely affected by ingesting or inhaling the substance or by absorbing it through the skin.
″The bad news is that the individuals at highest risk would be the Soviet agents that have been applying this substance, apparently in the form of an aerosol,″ he said. ″Spraying it around and taking it into the lungs could place them at the highest risk of all.″
Mica said the United States plans a short-term test of the health affects of the substance on laboratory animals, including mice.
He said a long-term test, which would take at least two years to complete, might be ordered, depending on the results of the preliminary testing.
And he said a crash program has been ordered to find out how to get rid of the substance from automobiles, desks, typewriters, clothing and other places where it might have been sprayed.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, the head of a team of American experts said that the chemical probably loses its cell-mutating properties if absorbed into the body.
Dr. Ernest McConnell, whose team will stay in Moscow 10 days to two weeks, said at a briefing for American residents of Moscow that testing will focus on whether NPPD, or Nitrophenylpentadienal, is absorbed through the skin and in what form.
In its normal form NPPD is mutagenic, meaning it can change the structure of cells, McConnell said. Mutagens can, but do not always, cause cancer in humans.
But he said the chemical is ″highly reactive″ and it is thus unlikely to be absorbed by the body without any changes. Scientists believe it is poorly absorbed and probably changes into other compounds they suspect are not mutagenic, McConnell said.
He said he hoped his four-member team, which will be gathering samples from flat surfaces, door handles and automobiles of Americans in Moscow, will have preliminary results in 30 to 60 days.
Karen Hammerstrom, a chemical engineer working for the Environmental Protection Agency, said she will be collecting samples on sterile gauze in sealed glass tubes, and also taking whole samples of items such as clothing back to Washington for analysis.
The State Department charged last week that the KGB had used the chemical to track American diplomats in Moscow. The Soviets have denied it.
Both Combs and McConnell said today there was a good chance the Soviets have removed the chemical from surfaces to which it had been applied.
Ms. Hammerstrom said scientists in the United States are trying to determine whether NPPD can be removed by detergents or vaccuuming.