US: Deep flaws at biodefense lab after live anthrax shipped

WASHINGTON (AP) — A general and 11 other people associated with a U.S. Army biodefense laboratory face potential punishment for leadership, management and technical failures that an Army report says contributed to the mistaken shipment of live anthrax to other labs over a period of years.

The report released Friday named Brig. Gen. William E. King, who commanded the lab at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah as a colonel between 2009 and 2011, faulting him for actions that “perpetuated a complacent atmosphere” among lab workers.

The report’s findings were first reported by USA Today.

FILE - In this May 11, 2003, file photo, Microbiologist Ruth Bryan works with BG nerve agent simulant in Class III Glove Box in the Life Sciences Test Facility at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. The specialized airtight enclosure is also used for hands-on work with anthrax and other deadly agents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is investigating what the Pentagon called an inadvertent shipment of live anthrax spores to government and commercial laboratories in as many as nine states, as well as one overseas, that expected to receive dead spores. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)
FILE – In this May 11, 2003, file photo, Microbiologist Ruth Bryan works with BG nerve agent simulant in Class III Glove Box in the Life Sciences Test Facility at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)

The lab came under public scrutiny when it was disclosed in May 2015 that live anthrax had been shipped to 194 other labs, including facilities in all 50 U.S. states and nine countries. The anthrax was supposed to have been killed before leaving Dugway.

The report called the inadvertent shipment of live anthrax “a serious breach of regulations” but said it did not pose a risk to public health. “Over the years, significant safeguards effectively ensured that the inadvertent shipments were not a threat.”

Dugway works with biological and chemical agents.

The report said investigators could not pin blame for the lapses on any individual, but it said the Army should consider holding King and the 11 others accountable. The Army has not yet taken disciplinary action against any of them.

The names of the 11 other individuals were blacked out in the publicly released report. It described them as a combination of military officers and others, including laboratory technicians who “failed to exercise due care.”

After leaving Dugway, King was promoted to brigadier general and is now commander of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command. A phone message left with his public affairs office requesting comment on the report’s findings was not returned.

 

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