Anthrax probe expands again, no word on overseas bases
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department on Wednesday dramatically increased the number of facilities that might have been mailed live anthrax — warning it will continue to rise in the coming days — but could not say whether more overseas bases are at risk.
The department said 51 facilities in 17 states and three countries including the Pentagon and Osan Air Base in South Korea might have been sent active spores from four DOD labs that coordinate worldwide biosecurity programs, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said. Initially, the department said labs in nine states were affected.
“We expect this number to rise because the scope of the investigation is going on,” he said. “We will update these numbers daily until the investigation is complete.”
So far, 10 labs have found confirmed cases of live anthrax and the number is likely to increase in the coming days as the DOD re-tests 400 batches of the deadly pathogen. Only a tiny fraction had been tested as of Wednesday — all four batches tested positive.
The department unveiled a website Wednesday to track the numbers as they change.
Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall said he could not immediately confirm whether any overseas bases other than Osan participate in the department’s anthrax research.
“I know of one [overseas military base] for sure and it is one of the ones we found,” Kendall said, speaking of Osan’s Joint United States Forces Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition Program.
A security facility that is part of the Pentagon but detached from the main building has been notified it might have received live anthrax, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said.
The DOD has repeatedly maintained there is no public health threat.
A total of 32 people are now taking antibiotics as a safeguard against infection — 22 of those are personnel at Osan Air Base.
The anthrax originated from four DOD labs — Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, Fort Detrick in Maryland, the Naval Medical Research Center in Virginia, and the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland, according to the DOD.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now investigating how live anthrax might have been mailed out. The military labs use gamma radiation to kill the spores and run tests before they are sent.
Work said the department plans to complete a wide-ranging investigation in 30 days.