Army orders immediate safety review at labs for possible anthrax contamination

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A photomicrograph of anthrax bacteria using Gram stain technique.  CDC
From Stripes.com
A photomicrograph of anthrax bacteria using Gram stain technique. CDC

Army orders immediate safety review at labs for possible anthrax contamination

by: Tara Copp | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: September 04, 2015

This story has been updated.

WASHINGTON — The Army has ordered an “immediate safety review” of all Defense Department laboratories involved in handling biological agents after investigators found evidence of anthrax contamination at its Dugway Proving Ground “outside the primary containment area.”

Army Secretary John McHugh announced the review late Thursday in an “abundance of caution,” according to a  statement.

"The review follows the discovery of evidence of anthrax contamination in secure areas located outside the primary containment area but still contained within the special enclosed lab for holding these materials at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah," the statement said.

Investigators from both the Pentagon and the Centers for Disease Control have been at the Dugway facility over the last few months to determine how that facility ended up shipping live samples of anthrax across the U.S. and to nine foreign countries.

The Pentagon statement said the review will involve all nine DOD labs and facilities “involved in the production, shipment, and handling of live and inactivated select agents and toxins.” The labs must confirm within 10 days that they are now following appropriate protocols, the statement said.

In the meantime, all shipments of anthrax or other biological agents have been suspended “until the Army determines it is appropriate to resume operations," the statement added.

The Pentagon confirmed this week that shipments of live anthrax were sent to 194 labs in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, and nine countries.  No illnesses have been reported as a result of the shipments.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters Thursday that he could not say whether the final report, due in October, would specify who within Dugway’s leadership was accountable for the shipments, and what actions would be taken as a result.

“It’s an active review right now,” he said.

The Army, which has the lead on the investigation, is “continuing to assess the situation at Dugway and these other facilities for safety and for exactly how these substances get handled going forward, and the question of accountability,” Cook said.

copp.tara@stripes.com
 Twitter: @TaraCopp

 

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