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The Associated Press

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Traces of CS tear gas and a related chemical have been found in an area north of town where residents have been complaining of respiratory and other illnesses.

The Environmental Protection Agency tested four properties near a plant that makes and tests tear gas. The chemicals were found at one of the properties.

Two soil samples were taken at each property. The six samples from the other three properties came back negative, according to Robert Harrington, director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department.

One of the positive tests showed 4 parts per billion of CS and 5 ppb of chlorobenzaldehyde, a chemical produced by the natural breakdown of CS. The other revealed 2 ppb of CS and 7 ppb of chlorobenzaldehyde.

“We don’t know what that means,” Harrington said. “We don’t know what the threshold effects are for long-term exposure.”

One part per billion is equivalent to four drops of water out of 64,000 gallons.

Harrington called for more study after people who live near the Defense Technology plant about 10 miles north of Casper said their noses, eyes and throats have been burning. Others have reported mysterious headaches, nausea and vomiting.

Steve Croskrey, vice president of Defense Technology’s parent company, Armor Holdings Inc. said Armor has not yet seen the test results and can not comment on them now.

“We do care about the health of our neighbors, and that’s why we’re working with health officials,” he said. “We have a commitment to figure it out.”

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Toxicologists have not been able to cite studies of the effect of long-term, low-grade exposure to tear gas. Harrington said state, and federal officials have been asking U.S. Army experts at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md., about military researching the matter.

“All we’ve found in the research is based on acute exposure,” he said.

According to a paper published on the Web site of California Polytechnic University, CS quickly breaks down into ortho-chlorobenzaldehyde and malonitrile, a toxic compound. Malonitrile breaks down further in the body as cyanide.

Officials next plan to test beef from a steer raised across the street from the plant.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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