WASHINGTON: The Pentagon has learned that additional samples of live anthrax were sent to three laboratories in Canada, two Defense officials confirmed Monday evening.
That means that specimens of the deadly Bacillus anthracis have been sent to labs in 12 states, the District of Columbia and three countries. The samples came from the U.S. Army lab at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Scientists there thought they had been shipping inactive strains of the deadly spores for research purposes.
If inhaled, anthrax spores can be lethal even with treatment, sparking a high fever and other flu-like symptoms. Biosafety expert Richard Ebright at Rutgers University has branded the blunder “gross negligence.”
Thus far, nobody has been sickened by the inadvertent shipments, said a senior Defense Department official who has been briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak publicly. Military investigators are continuing to comb through anthrax samples and records to determine if more potentially deadly vials have been shipped, the official said, adding that more labs may have received it.
The number of laboratories known to have mistakenly receiving samples of live anthrax has grown to at least 28 labs in 12 states and the District of Columbia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.
CDC bioterror lab regulators and the Pentagon are investigating how the lab in Utah failed to recognize it hadn’t thoroughly killed specimens of anthrax before shipping them to labs in the U.S. and abroad, potentially for several years.
An email that a CDC official sent to state officials Friday raises the prospect that the standard procedure that labs at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah used to kill anthrax spores isn’t fully effective.
“We have concern that the inactivation procedures, when followed properly, are inadequate to kill all spores, and the U.S. government is developing an approach to securing such possible samples from misuse,” wrote Daniel Sosin, deputy director of CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, in Friday’s email to state officials that was obtained by USA TODAY.
Earlier Monday, CDC spokesman Jason McDonald, said the investigation is ongoing and the agency can’t comment on what issues it has found with Dugway’s inactivation process until the investigation is concluded.
The labs known so far to have received samples of anthrax that appears to have not been fully killed are located in California, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, as well as Canada, South Korea and Australia.