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Live Anthrax Samples Mistakenly Sent Out by U.S. Defense Lab

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A U.S. military laboratory in Utah inadvertently sent samples of live anthrax spores to military and commercial labs in nine states and an American air base in South Korea, a Pentagon official said.

The Pentagon is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “in an investigation of the inadvertent transfer of samples containing live anthrax,” Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, said on Wednesday.

“There is no known risk to the general public, and there are no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection in potentially exposed lab workers,” Warren said.

A private lab in Maryland reported receiving live anthrax spores on May 22, a Defense official said. Samples of anthrax, a deadly biological agent, are supposed to be killed before being distributed for research, according to the official, who asked not to be identified while an investigation is under way.

The Dugway Proving Ground in Utah sent out the samples by truck to eight companies in nine states, the official said. They were sent to labs, both military and commercial, in Texas, Maryland, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, Tennessee, New York, California and Virginia. A sample was also transported to Osan Air Base in South Korea, where it was subsequently destroyed according to protocol.

Twenty-two personnel who may have been exposed in Osan were examined and given antibiotics and in some cases vaccinations, the 51st Fighter Wing said in an e-mailed statement. None of them have shown any signs of exposure, according to the statement.

The Utah lab was working with anthrax as part of an effort “to develop a field-based test to identify biological threats to the environment,” Warren said. “Out of an abundance of caution,” the Defense Department “has stopped the shipment of this material from its labs pending completion of the investigation.”

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