The military is trying to get rid of 50 tons of powerful delirium-producer known as BZ after conceding that its secret stockpile of bombs containing the nonlethal drug won't work.
An Army spokesman said yesterday that when BZ was developed around 1960 strategists saw it as a simple and ideal way to incapacitate would battlefields. In 1961 the Army snapped up the entire supply of the drug - enough to leave billions of persons delirous for days - and stored it away in bombs at depots in Arkansas, Utah and Maryland.
BZ is a member of a family of drugs known as anticholonergics. The drug is so powerful that it can cause persons to hallucinate for up to 80 hours at a time and then blot out all recollection of the experience.
The hitch, howerver, is that BZ is only good in powdered form. "In order to get the stuff to someone you'd kill him first with the concussion from the bomb," a non-military expert in the drug said yesterday.
"I suppose you could say they were not tactically effective," said a Defense Department spokesman yesterday. "There may have been some uses for them but they weren't any good to us."
It was not clear whether that problem was mentioned in 1975 when then-president Ford signed an order banning most chemical and biological weapons development but allowing the Army to keep its BZ bomb stock-pile for possible use in civilian disturbances.
A year later, however, the Army with a minimum of fanfare decided that its BZ bombs were duds and started laying plans to junk the entire program.
The Army says it will take some time to get rid of the drug bombs. "You can't just rush in and dump the stuff in concrete and drop it in the ocean the way we used to get rid of things like this," the Army spokesman said.
Instead, the Army has let a $2.3 million contract to Battelle Research Laboratories to come up with an acceptable disposal plan. Then, said the Army spokesman, the military will begin working on a disposal facility, a transportation plan, worker safety standards and, ironically, an environmental impact statement, for the bombs.
The whole thing should be completed in about eight to 10 years, the spokesman estimated.
The Army's problems with its BZ stockpile came to light recently when a group called American Citizens for Honesty in Government, an affiliate of the Church of Scientology, began a campaign to locate persons who had been tested with BZ by the military during the 1960s.
Brian Anderson, the organization's research director, said recent newspaper advertisements elicited responses from several persons who said they might have been part of the experiments.
"We're trying to find out who ran these illegal experiments on humans and to determine who they haven't been punished," Anderson said.
In 1975 the Army said it had tested anticholonergic drugs on 2,490 persons at its Edgewood Arsenal, Md., chemical warfare facility between 1960 and 1969. An Army spokesman said yesterday that 362 of those persons received doses of BZ, according to military records.
The Army spokesman said followup examinations of some test subjects dosed with LSD, another hallucinogen, were ordered by the Army in 1975 after newspaper reports of the tests. But he said the Army decided not to do followup examinations on persons exposed to BZ after a study by the National Academy of Science said the tests were not necessary.