US Army chief says no human error seen in anthrax mishap

US officials disclosed on Wednesday that US Army facilities mistakenly shipped live anthrax bacteria to laboratories in nine states and an air base in South Korea.

Center for Disease Control/REUTERS
Spores from the Sterne strain of anthrax bacteria (Bacillus anthracis) are pictured in this handout scanning electron micrograph (SEM) obtained by Reuters May 28, 2015.

US personnel working at an Army facility in Utah appeared to follow correctly all the outlined procedures to inactivate anthrax before they mistakenly shipped off live samples of the deadly bacteria, the Army's top general said on Thursday.

Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno said investigators were now reviewing the procedures themselves to determine why the bacteria was not rendered inactive.

"The best I can tell there was not human error," Odierno told reporters, cautioning that his information was based solely on preliminary reports.
US officials disclosed on Wednesday that US Army facilities mistakenly shipped live anthrax bacteria to laboratories in nine states and an air base in South Korea.

The Pentagon has said there was no known suspected infection or risk to the public.

But four US civilians have started taking preventive measures called post-exposure prophylaxis, which usually includes the anthrax vaccine, antibiotics or both.

Twenty-two personnel at the base in South Korea were also given precautionary medical measures although none have shown sign of exposure.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has begun an investigation of the incident. Odierno said the CDC was reviewing whether "we have to change the procedures that are in place."

Odierno did not offer specifics and said he did not know how long the procedures had been in place.

"But we definitely believe no one is in danger. We believe we followed all the proper procedures," Odierno said.

The mishap comes 11 months after the CDC, one of the government's top civilian labs, similarly mishandled anthrax. Researchers at a lab designed to handle extremely dangerous pathogens sent what they believed were killed samples of anthrax to another CDC lab, one with fewer safeguards and therefore not authorized to work with live anthrax.

Scores of CDC employees could have been exposed to the live anthrax, but none became ill.

That incident and a similar one last spring, in which CDC scientists shipped what they thought was a benign form of bird flu but which was actually a highly virulent strain, led US lawmakers to fault a "dangerous pattern" of safety lapses at government labs.

In the latest case, the Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah reported in March 2014 that gamma irradiation had inactivated the anthrax stock in question, and along with another Army facility, began shipments that continued through April 2015, a US official said.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.