A Department of Defense effort to create a field test kit to identify environmental threats went awry last week when workers at a United States military lab in Dugway, Utah mistakenly shipped live anthrax samples via FedEx to labs in Tennessee, New York, Texas, Maryland, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, California, Virginia, and to Osan Air Base in South Korea. The samples were intended to be rendered inactive prior to being shipped. The above-embedded video by ABC News describes anthrax as a “potential biological weapon.”
Though Pentagon officials claim that the mishap does not present a threat to the public, 4 lab workers in the US and 22 stationed at the South Korean training lab are being treated with post-exposure prophylaxis. None of the individuals being treated are symptomatic at this point in time. Reuters cited comments by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Jason McDonald who said that the 4 US-based civilian lab workers receiving treatment were “doing procedures that sent the agent into the air.” The 22 individuals being treated at the South Korean base include 10 active duty members of the US Army, 5 active duty members of the US Air Force, 4 military contractors, and 3 civilian officials.
According to Reuters, Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno said that workers at the Dugway lab followed all of the proper procedures for de-activating the anthrax spores and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating whether those procedures need to be changed. “But we definitely believe no one is in danger,” said Odierno.
CNN notes that FedEx spokesperson Jim McCluskey said, “FedEx is committed to the safe transport of all customer shipments, and our priority is the safety of our employees. We will be working closely with the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control to gather information about these shipments.”
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren confirmed that the sample that was sent to South Korea has been destroyed and that the facility has been decontaminated.
CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said, “CDC is working in conjunction with state and federal partners to conduct an investigation with all the labs that received samples from the DOD. The ongoing investigation includes determining if the labs also received other live samples, epidemiologic consultation, worker safety review, laboratory analysis and handling of laboratory waste.”
A similar incident happened in June of last year when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mistakenly exposed workers at a CDC lab to live anthrax, believing the spores had been de-activated.