Porton Down is a research facility located near Porton, England. It houses government and military research labs, which carry out work which is largely top-secret. The precise nature of the research and experiments at Porton Down is obscured by a veil of secrecy, and periodically the lab is the subject of controversy in Britain as a result of exposes of research and policies at the site.
This facility was established in 1915 to research chemical warfare, focusing particularly on mustard gas. After the conclusion of the First World War, Porton Down was shrunk considerably, but by 1920, the government recognized the value of the research carried out there, and it expanded the staffing and facility. Through the Second World War, the staff worked on chemical warfare, learning about chemical weapons and devising methods of defense against them.
After the Second World War, research at Porton Down expanded to nerve agents, biological agents, and riot control tactics. While the use of chemical weapons is forbidden by treaty, the government believes that the research still has value because it is important to know what other governments might be capable of doing. Porton Down staff also do a great deal of research on methods for coping with exposure to chemical weapons, including devising antidotes, some of which are now standard issue for soldiers traveling to areas where the use of chemical agents is suspected.
The laboratory facilities at Porton Down are of very high quality, and they are also extremely tightly controlled, due to security issues. Scientists there work with a variety of hazardous substances, so they have to observe high-level protocol in the lab to prevent exposure and monitor themselves. Several researchers at Porton Down have died mysteriously, possibly due to exposure to hazardous substances, although the government has denied that these deaths were related to research at the facility.
This laboratory uses animals in testing, primarily mice, and as a result it has attracted the attention of the animal rights community. Like other European labs, Porton Down is in the process of reducing the amount of animal testing it performs in response to government mandates and public outcry. The laboratory has also used human volunteers in testing, sometimes very controversially, and several lawsuits relating to human test subjects have been settled by the Porton Down team.