WASHINGTON — The Utah military lab that accidentally sent live anthrax samples to labs across America and to nine foreign countries is in trouble again for having anthrax outside of a containment area.
Army Secretary John McHugh ordered on Thursday for the immediate halt of operations and safety review of all Defense Department labs handling toxic biologic agents, including anthrax, after finding contaminated material outside of a designated holding area at the Utah military lab.
This same Utah facility, the Dugway Proving Ground, sent live anthrax samples to as many as 50 states and nine countries earlier this year, said the Pentagon on its website. Shipments went to 194 labs of companies, universities, and government sites. The Pentagon maintains that no one was subjected to anthrax. Anthrax is especially lethal if inhaled but can be treated with ciprofloxacin hydrochloride (Cipro).
A Maryland lab reported receiving live anthrax in May, which sparked a probe that found the Utah lab was improperly irradiating live anthrax and not killing the spores. Further, the lab did the minimum level of testing to see if the anthrax was actually dead. The lab was supposed to be sending dead anthrax samples, but in an unwelcome surprise, U.S. and world labs received living bugs instead.
Investigators suspect that the anthrax spores regenerated after being hit by gamma rays or possibly there was cross-contamination, according to a Washington Post report. The Utah facility is one of the largest military suppliers of anthrax.
Anthrax samples had been sent in a liquid form, which makes it less likely to cause illness than a powder. No injuries or illnesses were reported as a result of the mistake.
The Pentagon said anthrax contamination was found outside the primary containment area but was still inside a special closed lab for these toxic materials. The area has been decontaminated and cleared of anthrax, according to the Pentagon. No injuries have been reported.
The shutdown of military labs is meant to get to the bottom of how facilities are exactly handling biohazards materials that can be used as weapons.
"They are continuing to assess the situation at Dugway and these other facilities for safety, and moving forward, exactly how these substances get handled, and the question of accountability, as well," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said.
A moratorium on the production and shipment of inactivated anthrax put in place by the Deputy Secretary of Defense beginning July 23 remains in place.