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Anthrax prompts Army research lab refreshers

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2008

HAGERSTOWN, Md. | Workers who handle dangerous pathogens at Army biological research laboratories will get additional security training as the result of the FBI's finding that an Army scientist was behind the 2001 anthrax attacks, military officials said Tuesday.

A week-long refresher course began Monday at the flagship biodefense lab at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, where microbiologist Bruce Ivins purportedly obtained and refined the anthrax used in the deadly mailings, laboratory spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said.

Mr. Ivins committed suicide in July as prosecutors prepared to charge him in mailings that killed five people and sickened 17 others.

Miss Vander Linden said additional training in security, accounting and reporting rules will be given to five other Army labs over the next few months. She said Army leaders aren't calling for changes in pathogen handling but are reiterating procedures for inventory and documentation.

Michael Brady, special assistant to Army Secretary Pete Geren, said the training was recommended as a first step by a task force reviewing biolab security practices in response to the Ivins case.

Miss Vander Linden said the task force is reviewing Fort Detrick's automated pathogen inventory management system and considering making it a model for other Army labs that use different systems. "They're trying to see which would be a good standard to follow," she said.

Tracking inventories of biological agents is trickier than tracking chemical inventories, because biological materials can be grown, resulting in a larger supply, or reduced by distillation, Miss Vander Linden said.

She said Fort Detrick's lab, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, has strengthened its security procedures since the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Scientists at USAMRIID and other military labs study the world's deadliest pathogens to develop antidotes, vaccines and other defenses against germs that troops might encounter.