Live samples of anthrax were shipped across the United States, and even to South Korea, by mistake, Pentagon officials admitted on Wednesday. The shipments of the live anthrax, or Bacillus anthracis, were shipped by mistake to nine states over a year-long time frame, from the Dugway Proving Ground located in Dugway, Utah, according to USA Today and other sources, as well as to the Integrated Threat Recognition Program at Osan Air Base in South Korea.
The nine states in the United States that the samples were mistakenly shipped to are Wisconsin, California, Virginia, Delaware, Texas, Maryland, Tennessee, New York, and New Jersey. The shipments were sent to commercial and government labs in the nine states.
Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steven Warren, stated that the investigation into the mistaken shipments was being conducted by the Department of Defense in collaboration “with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Warren added that the shipments did not pose a risk to the public and that no lab workers have been suspected or confirmed exposed to the samples of anthrax.
Despite the minimal health risk that the samples pose that were mistakenly shipped across the United States, pending the completion of an investigation, the Pentagon has temporarily suspended anthrax shipments from its federal labs.
After a private lab in Maryland was sent live samples of the anthrax and realized it a year later, and requested consultation about it, the CDC began the investigation and found out about the mistaken shipments to the nine states and to South Korea. The investigation, which is still ongoing, is also looking into if live samples of other potentially dangerous substances were sent out.
CDC spokesman, Jason McDonald, said that the investigation will also focus on issues such as the “handling of laboratory waste,” and a “worker safety review.” The samples that were mistakenly shipped will be transferred either to regional partner labs or directly to the CDC, for further testing.
This was not the first case of a safety issue involving anthrax and the CDC. During the summer of 2014, as many as 86 members of the Atlanta-based CDC staff were possibly exposed to live anthrax bacteria.
Director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, testified last July in front of Congress about potentially serious safety lapses, like the one involving the mistaken shipments. In his words, the exposure of the CDC employees was “unacceptable,” and “should never have happened.”
Republican Senator Tim Murphy, of Pennsylvania, used the words “inexcusable” and “sloppy” to describe a series of similar incidents cited in numerous reports. He said that lab safety issues at the CDC seemed to be systemic.
A defense official stated that the anthrax spores were supposed to be “dead.” All of the shipments were supposed to contain just inactive or dead spores, rather than live ones.
The eight companies in the nine states that were shipped the samples have locked them down. A report by Fox News mentioned that the sample sent to the Osan Air Base in South Korea had been intended to have been used in an exercise designed to detect anthrax. The sample that was sent there has reportedly been destroyed, though the U.S. military issued a statement that as many as twenty-two personnel may have been exposed. They have all since been treated, as a safety precaution.
Following the mistaken shipment of live anthrax spores to nine states in the United States, the Pentagon has halted further shipments from its labs pending a complete investigation. Though no lives, reportedly, have been placed at risk by the mistaken shipments, the outcome could have been potentially much worse.
Written By Douglas Cobb
USA TODAY: Anthrax from military lab mistakenly shipped across USA
Fox News: Pentagon says ‘live anthrax’ inadvertently shipped across US
Nasdaq: Live Anthrax Samples Mistakenly Shipped to Nine States, South Korea
Photo Courtesy of AgriLife Today’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License 2.0
Photo of Pentagon Courtesy of gregwest98’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License 2.0