- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — The Army’s biological weapons defense laboratory at Fort Detrick probably had multiple episodes of anthrax contamination as workers strove to process a flood of samples sent there for testing in 2001 and 2002, an internal report says.

The report obtained by the Frederick News-Post contains previously undisclosed details about the sometimes sloppy practices that allowed anthrax spores to escape from biosafety containment labs at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).

No one was infected by the released spores.

Security measures were tightened after the Army acknowledged one of the accidental releases in April 2002. No other breaches of containment — the confirmed presence of agents where they shouldn’t be — have been reported since then.

The 361-page report was compiled by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, which oversees USAMRIID. The News-Post reported on its findings and on other aspects of USAMRIID security, in a three-day series ended Tuesday.

The report shows that evidence of anthrax spores in supposedly clean areas began appearing months before the April 8, 2002, breach as USAMRIID processed tens of thousands of items and environmental samples, including the anthrax-laced letters mailed to Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont in the fall 2001.

The unsolved anthrax mailings, which also targeted members of the press in New York and Florida, killed five persons and sickened 17.

In December 2001, a USAMRIID technician told Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist in USAMRIID’s Division of Bacteriology, that she may have been exposed to anthrax spores when handling an anthrax-laced letter, the report says.

It said Mr. Ivins tested the technician’s desk area and found growth that had the earmarks of anthrax. He decontaminated her desk, computer, keypad and monitor, but did not notify his superiors.

Mr. Ivins later told Army investigators that he did the unauthorized testing because he was concerned that the powdered anthrax in the letters might not be adequately contained.

He said he again became suspicious of contamination April 8, 2002, when two researchers reported potential exposures after noticing that flasks they were working with had leaked anthrax, causing crusting on the outside of the glass.

Mr. Ivins reported the concerns to USAMRIID officials, who then found spores on nasal swabs from one scientist involved in the incident. The scientist had been vaccinated and did not contract the disease.

The report says Mr. Ivins performed more unauthorized sampling of areas outside containment April 15 and found anthrax spores in his office area; in a passbox, which allows workers to safely transfer materials from labs to outside areas such as hallways; and in a room where male workers change from civilian clothing into laboratory garb.

The report says Mr. Ivins found heavy growth of Ames-strain anthrax, a pathogenic or disease-causing form of the agent, on rubber molding surrounding the noncontainment side of a passbox. His office area also tested positive for Ames anthrax spores.

The changing room tested positive for Ames spores and Vollum 1B, another pathogenic form.

Subsequent official sampling found more than 200 spores of Ames near the passbox, the highest concentration found outside containment. Other contaminated areas had no more than three spores, according to the report.

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