Army lab mistakenly sends live anthrax samples to 9 states
Scientists at a biodefense lab at the Dugway Proving Ground, an Army installation in Utah, mistakenly shipped live Bacillus anthracis samples—the bacterium that causes anthrax—to labs in nine US states and South Korea, according to media reports today.
Shipments went to 18 labs in California, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, USA Today reported. Labs have not been specified, but "they are mostly private and some are operated by government and public institutions," said Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Richard Ebright, PhD, a biosafety expert at Rutgers in New Jersey, called the mishap "gross negligence." Pentagon officials said there are no anthrax cases in potentially exposed lab personnel, and said the incidents pose no risk to the public, according to USA Today.
The Pentagon said 22 people in South Korea are being treated for potential B anthracis exposure at a US military lab at Osan Air Base, and at least 4 potentially exposed civilians from US commercial labs are likewise being treated, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno said investigators are reviewing biosecurity procedures to determine why the bacteria were not inactivated before shipping, but he said human error was not a factor, according to Reuters. "The best I can tell there was not human error," he said, adding that his information was based exclusively on preliminary reports.
Federal officials have been plagued by biosecurity lapses in recent months, including the transfer of Ebola virus to a lower biosafety-level CDC lab last December; the discovery of smallpox vials on the campus of the National Institutes of Health and a CDC breach involving highly pathogenic avian flu viruses, both in July; and lab workers being potentially exposed to Bacillus anthracis at a CDC lab last June.
May 28 USA Today story
May 28 LA Times article
May 28 Reuters story
Ground broken for high-security animal-disease lab in Kansas
After years of controversy and delays, officials broke ground yesterday in Manhattan, Kan., for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Laboratory (NBAF), a $1.25 billion, high-containment laboratory for studying foreign animal diseases and emerging zoonotic diseases.
Scheduled for completion in 2022, the 570,000-square-foot lab will supersede the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a press release. The facility will be the first animal biosafety level 4 (ABSL-4) lab in the United States, allowing researchers to study zoonotic diseases that affect livestock and other large animals, the agency said.
"This innovative new facility is capable of producing the research needed to protect our nation's farmers, food supply, public health and the rural economy," US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release. "It has been a national priority for USDA, DHS, and our other partners as we work to replace aging facilities."
The key functions of the NBAF space will include basic research, sample testing and diagnosis, veterinarian training, countermeasures and vaccine candidate development, and vaccine efficacy trials, the statement said. Plans for the NBAF were slowed by the recession, safety concerns, and resistance from politicians who wanted the project in their states, said a story yesterday in the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World.
The project's cost was estimated at $451 million in 2008, but the price tag more than doubled after the National Research Council released a report in 2010 that questioned the wisdom of "placing the facility in a college town in the heart of cattle country with a history of large, destructive tornadoes," the story said.