BioweaponsPentagon accidentally ship live anthrax from Utah to labs in nine states
The U.S. Department of Defense yesterday admitted it had accidentally shipped samples of a live anthrax spores – a potential bioweapon — across nine states and to a U.S. air base in South Korea. The Pentagon revealed what it described as an “inadvertent transfer of samples containing live Bacillus anthracis” from a DoD laboratory in Dugway Proving Ground, Utah to labs in nine states. The mishap alarmed biosafety experts. “These events shouldn’t happen,” said one.
The U.S. Department of Defense yesterday admitted it had accidentally shipped samples of a live anthrax spores – a potential bioweapon — across nine states and to a U.S. air base in South Korea.
The Pentagon revealed what it described as an “inadvertent transfer of samples containing live Bacillus anthracis” from a DoD laboratory in Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. The Pentagon did not say when the inadvertent shipment took place, and also did not name the nine states received samples of the anthrax. One sample was also sent to Osan air base in Pyeongtaek, about sixty-five km south of Seoul.
Colonel Steve Warren, the acting Pentagon press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that there was “no known risk to the general public,” and lab workers who might have been exposed to the bioagent have not exhibited any symptoms of infection.
Warren said the lab at Dugway was “working as part of a DoD effort to develop a field-based test to identify biological threats in the environment.”
2014 saw potentially serious safety mishaps at U.S. biolabs, 6 January 2015
CDC resumes pathogen shipments, 29 July 2014
The Pentagon said it was helping with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation, and Warren added that “out of an abundance of caution,” DoD had stopped additional anthrax shipments from its stockpiles.
Experts note that such shipments typically involve only inactive or dead bioweapons samples.
The Guardian reports that Pentagon officials were tight lipped about when the shipment was made, who was the official – and what office or unit – were responsible, and whether or not the shipment of active spores was truly inadvertent since, nor how inadvertent it was, given that the shipment appeared from Warren’s account to be part of a bioweapon detection initiative.
ABC News reported the states receiving the anthrax from the DoD lab are California, Texas, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told the New York Times that because the live anthrax was sent to labs working on the dangerous bacteria, researchers there have likely been vaccinated against anthrax, said.
“That’s part of standard biosafety protocol at such labs,” he said. If anyone who has not been vaccinated was exposed, they can undergo post-exposure prophylaxis with vaccination and antibiotics.
CDC said it is investigating the mishap. “All samples involved in the investigation will be securely transferred to CDC” or affiliated labs “for further testing,” said spokeswoman Kathy Harden, adding that CDC has sent officials to the labs “to conduct on-site investigations.”
A Maryland lab alerted CDC Friday night that it had a live sample. By midday on Saturday, all nine laboratories were notified, a CDC official said.
The mishap alarmed biosafety experts.
Stephen Morse of Columbia University, a former program manager for biodefense at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) told the Times that “These events shouldn’t happen.”
Scientists working with the most dangerous pathogens follow a “two-person rule,” never handling samples alone. Morse said that the second pair of eyes is meant to insure scientists take proper precautions during experiments.
Two people should also vet shipments of supposedly killed anthrax, Morse said: “We can put greater safeguards in place.”
CDC last year revealed that a lab in Georgia exposed staff to anthrax after conducting an experiment into the prospect for mass spectrometry providing “a faster way to detect anthrax compared to conventional methods.”