Anthrax May Have Survived Process to Kill It, U.S. General Says

A U.S. military laboratory’s inadvertent delivery of live anthrax spores was probably the result of a faulty process that was supposed to kill the deadly biological agent, the Army’s chief of staff said.

“We followed all the procedures,” General Ray Odierno said at a defense writers’ breakfast on Thursday in Washington. “The best I can tell, it was not human error.”

The Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah sent samples of anthrax spores to military and commercial labs in nine states and an American air base in South Korea for research purposes after irradiating the material in an effort to kill it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is examining the procedures the military has used for “a long time” for killing the spores to determine if changes are needed, he said.

“I’m 99.9 percent confident that nobody’s in danger,” Odierno said.

There are no “suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection in potentially exposed lab workers,” Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, said Wednesday in a statement.

A private lab in Maryland reported receiving live anthrax spores on May 22, a defense official said. Samples of anthrax 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.

Samples by Truck

The Dugway Proving Ground 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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