U.S. officials admitted Thursday that not only had the military accidentally sent live anthrax to labs in nine different states, as well as South Korea, but that in total 26 people were likely exposed.
California, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Virginia received live samples meant for germ warfare training via FedEx, as did the Osan Air Force Base in South Korea, Reuters reports. Hazardous material teams subsequently destroyed the anthrax samples.
In the U.S. the four employees exposed are undergoing precautionary medical treatment to avoid the problem of inhalation anthrax, which killed five people in 2001. Treatment usually includes a course of antibiotics and the anthrax vaccine.
“There is no known risk to the general public, and there are no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection in potentially exposed lab workers,” Col. Steven Warren, Pentagon spokesman , said in a statement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating the incident stemming from the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, which regularly transfers dead samples after rendering them inactive. After receiving samples from the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, a private firm in Maryland notified authorities on Friday that apparently the procedure of gamma irradiation hadn’t worked.
Officials at the Department of Defense have halted shipments of anthrax until the investigation concludes.
The latest incident marks a pattern of the government’s poor handling of pathogens. Less than a year ago, the CDC had to shut down two laboratories after a shipment of dangerous pathogens surfaced. One of the laboratories had mishandled anthrax. In the Agriculture Department, officials also found anthrax stored in easily accessible fridges. The fridges weren’t locked, and the anthrax was placed in resealable plastic bags.
“These events shouldn’t happen,” Stephen Morse, a former program manager for biodefense at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, told Reuters, expressing dismay at the mishap.
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