The Pentagon revealed on Thursday that several Army run labs shipped live anthrax samples to fifty US states and nine countries.
Since 2003, Army labs make regular shipments of inactive samples of the Bacillus Anthracis to facilities in the US and around the world.
Anthrax samples are usually made inactive by bombardment with gamma radiation and further tested for safety before shipping.
The discovery of live bacteria in one of the presumably “safe” samples back in May prompted the DoD to revise security measures. Errors in book kipping at four US Army labs were also found.
Following this, a number of US Army facilities were ordered to reassess their hazardous material handling procedures and were placed under a moratorium by the DoD in July.
In a memorandum released on Thursday, Army Secretary John McHugh declared he will further toughen the measures taken in July. He announced a safety stand down for army labs handling hazardous biological material. Nine facilities where placed under review and a further four suspended all operation. The shutdown is expected to last at least ten days, during which safety procedures are to be revised.
The biggest facility affected is the Army’s Dugway Proving ground in Utah, one of the facilities already under the DoD’s moratorium. Activity also ceased at the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center, the Naval Medical Center and the U.S Army Institute of Infectious Diseases, all in Maryland.
According to the Pentagon’s latest figures, 88 facilities received live Anthrax from the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. These were shared with 106 other facilities for a total of 194 labs affected. This is not the final tally, however, the DoD admitting that further investigation by the Center for Disease Control might raise the figure.
Regarding the public safety hazard posed by the live Anthrax samples, a Pentagon report from July stated:
“The low numbers of live spores found in inactivated DoD samples did not pose a risk to the general public,”
It continued to add that the shipment of live anthrax samples outside of the “selected program restrictions” still constitutes a severe breach of protocol.
Secondary safety procedures employed when handling samples of potentially hazardous material seriously impede any risk of infection. Regardless, around 30 military and civilian personal received anti-biotic treatment as a prophylactic measure.
The nine foreign labs that received live Anthrax samples were located in Japan, South Korea, Canada, The United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Norway and Australia.
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