Md. Lab First Alerted Army About Potentially Deadly Anthrax Mistake

WASHINGTON (WJZ) — How did the military ship live anthrax around the country — including to a lab here in Maryland? That lab first alerted the Army about the potentially deadly live anthrax spores.

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren with what we’re learning.

Authorities do not believe this was human error — the process for making the anthrax inactive may have been flawed. It was a private, commercial lab in Maryland that got the shipment.

A federal investigation is underway into how the Army shipped deadly live anthrax to 18 labs around the United States.

WJZ has learned a Maryland lab first reported the active sample — shipped using FedEx — but the Army says people should not be alarmed.

“No known risk to the general public, and there’s no suspected or confirmed cases of Anthrax infection,” said Colonel Ronald Fizer, U.S. Army spokesman.

The samples came from a facility in Utah, and were sent to nine states — including Maryland and Delaware. They were part of an effort to develop a test that could detect biological threats in the field.

The Army says personnel at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah followed proper procedures to make the anthrax inactive. They do not believe there was human error.

Right now, investigators are working to determine why those procedures did not work.

“It’s a great question, and that’s exactly why we brought in the Center for Disease Control,” said Col. Fizer.

This has happened before. Twice last year, dangerous live specimens were shipped to labs. One case involved anthrax; another — Ebola.

“We have several layers of security, and the receiving laboratories also did their quality control, discovered they were live and everything was halted,” said Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University.

Maryland was at the center of another anthrax investigation shortly after Sept. 11, when the bacteria was mailed to lawmakers and news organizations, killing five and infecting seven others. The government tried to blame it on a scientist at Fort Detrick in Frederick.

The Maryland lab in this latest scare has not been identified.

Pentagon officials would not say whether that unidentified Maryland lab has placed any of its employees on preventative medication.

Nearby in Delaware, health officials ordered another private, commercial lab that also received the anthrax to close. It is being decontaminated.

More from Mike Hellgren
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