The U.S. military disclosed new problems in its handling of dangerous substances, such as anthrax, on Thursday, including contamination in a laboratory in Utah from which live anthrax samples were sent across the world.
Anthrax was found “in secure areas located outside the primary containment area but still contained within the special enclosed lab for holding these materials” at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, military officials said in a statement. The commander at Dugway ordered an immediate decontamination of the biosafety area, and it has since been cleaned and found to be clear, the statement said.
Army Secretary John McHugh ordered an immediate safety review afterward of all nine Defense Department laboratories involved in the handling of dangerous agents and toxins in a new memo, military officials said. Each lab must report back to him within 10 days, the memo said.
McHugh also expanded an existing moratorium prompted by the discovery this year of live samples being shipped from Dugway to temporarily ban the handling or shipping of any dangerous substance there and at three other facilities: the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and Naval Medical Research Center Biological Defense Research Directorate at Fort Detrick, Md.
“These measures will remain in place pending completion of the ongoing review and investigation until the Army determines it is appropriate to resume operations,” military officials said in the statement. “Specific exemptions to this policy will be judiciously reviewed and approved only in appropriate circumstances by the Secretary of the Army.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work said in July that a review of how Dugway distributed scores of live anthrax samples to facilities across the United States and overseas found systemic problems with irradiation and testing procedures that have been used there for a decade, but determined that a root cause is still not certain.
“Obviously, when over half of those anthrax batches that were presumed to be inactivated were then proven to contain live spores, we have a major problem,” Work said. He later added: “We are shocked by these failures.”
The Pentagon disclosed this week that those live samples were sent to facilities in all 50 U.S. states and numerous countries overseas.