Calling the Defense
Department’s inadvertent May delivery of live anthrax to a commercial
lab “a massive institutional failure,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work
today outlined findings of the review and steps DoD will take to ensure
it never happens again.
But given the failure, Work
said at a Pentagon news conference, he, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and
DoD senior leadership “take absolutely no comfort in this.”
The live-anthrax shipment to
a commercial lab was narrowed down to one of four DoD labs, he said,
and added that of the total batches in the lab’s inventory, more than
half tested positive for live anthrax -- 17 of 33.
DoD ships inactivated
samples of anthrax spores to outside labs for research and development
of DoD countermeasures to protect U.S. troops, allies, partners and the
American public from biological attack, the deputy defense secretary
“[In] the past, some nations
have produced biological weapons, and we cannot be certain that rogue
nations or terrorist groups won’t do the same in the future,” he said of
DoD’s work with anthrax.
Four Labs Handle Anthrax
The four labs that handle
anthrax are the Army’s labs at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and in
Maryland, the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, the Army Medical
Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Naval Medical Research
When the incident unfolded,
the Centers for Disease Control began onsite investigations, and Work
directed Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition,
technology and logistics, to conduct the 30-day review of the labs’
procedures, processes and protocols associated with inactivating anthrax
The deputy secretary said he
wanted to determine whether the accidental delivery was a one-time
failure or a “more systemic problem” in DoD’s biohazard safety
procedures, and he assembled a team of experts from the departments of
Agriculture, Defense, Energy and Homeland Security, the FBI, academia
The review committee found
the four labs had irradiated -- destroyed the bacterium with radiation
-- 149 batches of live anthrax spores and reported them inactivated and
safe for testing since 2003. All were accounted for and tested or
destroyed, he said.
-- Fifty-three of the 149
batches are no longer in the DoD inventory or available for testing, and
recipients were told to destroy remaining batches.
-- Of the 96 batches to test in DoD inventory at Dugway Proving Ground, 17 of 33 tested positive for re-growth/live anthrax.
“Obviously, when over half
of anthrax batches presumed to be inactivated instead prove to contain
live anthrax spores, we have a major problem, and the numbers confirm
this judgment,” Work said.
“We know over the past 12
years, 86 laboratories in 20 states, the District of Columbia, and seven
foreign countries ultimately received what were supposedly inactivated
spores that originated at Dugway,” he added.
The deputy defense secretary
said he expects the numbers to increase with secondary shipments, which
CDC is responsible for tracking.
No Infections Resulted
Work said the live anthrax
was delivered in small amounts of liquid in “extremely low
concentrations,” and all were handled in labs. Not a single infection
resulted in lab workers in 12 years, he added.
Three main causes led to the incident, Work said:
-- No national standards exist for anthrax inactivation procedures;
-- Several factors at Dugway led to a higher likelihood of misidentifying the live spores; and
-- Biohazard protocol is not standardized across DoD, because the labs report to multiple chains of command and two services.
“The American public expects
much more from us, and we should expect much more from ourselves,” Work
said. “Secretary Carter has made plain he expects these issues be dealt
with swiftly and comprehensively to ensure that a failure of this sort
never happens again.”
Work said he directed Kendall’s office to:
-- Work with DoD
stakeholders, the CDC, and other relevant departments and agencies to
develop standardized irradiation and viability testing protocols for all
DOD labs that work with spore-producing organisms like anthrax;
-- Ensure sufficient funding
is available through the Chemical and Biological Defense Program for
research into the development of standardized irradiation and viability
-- Review and revise as
necessary DoD biosafety and biosecurity policy and ensure consistent
application across DoD laboratories; and
--Oversee military department and service implementation of the review committee’s recommendations.
Work said he also directed
the secretaries of the Army and Navy to investigate and develop plans
that cover quality assurance, peer review, and program management and to
provide quarterly updates on progress. The Army secretary was
designated as DoD’s executive agent for the Biological Select Agent and
Toxin Biosafety Program, the deputy defense secretary added. The
moratorium on production, handling, testing, and shipment will continue
until the report’s recommendations are addressed, he said.
Notification Led to Immediate Action
Work commended the lab that notified the CDC of the live anthrax delivery.
“Because of their
notification, the department was able to take immediate action, stop all
shipping of inactivated anthrax, assess our procedures, processes, and
protocols; and begin to institute needed changes,” he said. “In doing
so, they helped ensure nobody was infected by anthrax.
“This review taught us
lessons we needed to learn, and identified institutional and procedural
failures we need urgently to address,” he continued. “We are shocked by
these failures. … DoD takes full responsibility for these failures, and
we are implementing changes and recommending the establishment of
procedures, processes and protocols that will prevent such a biohazard
safety failure does not happen again.”