- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

FALFURRIAS, Texas The veterinarian who performed the autopsy that identified lethal anthrax linked to letters mailed last fall said Texas' insistence on burying anthrax-infected carcasses in public landfills may be endangering future generations or aiding potential bioterrorists.
Dr. Michael L. Vickers, who operates two veterinary clinics in south Texas and has treated animals in 20 counties for nearly 30 years, is fighting a Texas regulation that disallows the burning of animal carcasses infected with anthrax and other diseases. He has called the measure "careless" and "idiotic."
Dr. Vickers became famous in scientific circles a few weeks ago when it was announced by federal agencies that a 700-pound anthrax-riddled heifer he had autopsied near here in 1981 had been matched by DNA to anthrax from the deadly letters that appeared in Washington, Connecticut, New York and Florida last year.
The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) last year fined Dr. Vickers $9,000 for burning infected carcasses in a pit behind his offices a somewhat remote area outside this small town.
Last week, as more and more facts became known about the Texas veterinarian's role in discovering the dreaded strain of anthrax known as "Ames," Dr. Vickers was testifying in an administrative judicial hearing in Austin on his case, which he is battling to have overturned.
Most health experts, including World Health Organization scientists, agree that the preferred method of disposing of diseased animal carcasses is burning. Extremely high temperatures, the World Health Organization says, is the best way to make sure all anthrax spores are destroyed. U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations concur.
Dr. Vickers said he had been ordered by the TNRCC to dispose of carcasses in city landfills rather than by burning.
"In the first place, no landfills will take them," he said, "and second, to put these carcasses in a landfill, they would become time bombs to future generations.
"A generation down the road somebody builds a housing development over this landfill and before you know it, a kid digs up some of these spores and dies," he said.
Scientists claim the anthrax spores can remain alive for 150 years or longer.
Dr. Vickers began battling the TNRCC regulation a couple years ago and was successful in getting legislation passed that allowed vets in counties with 10,000 or fewer residents to burn the carcasses. Since he is in Brooks County, a sparsely populated country near the Rio Grande, he can now legally burn diseased carcasses. But the state still wants him to pay the $9,000 fine.
He is fighting for others in more populous counties to allow legal burning of the carrier animals.
Dr. Vickers said he had encountered many different animal diseases considered possible bioterrorism weapons as listed by the Centers for Disease Control and considered the stringent regulations by the TNRCC "a huge national security threat to this nation."
When the Texas vet finished that famous autopsy veterinarians call them necropsies he sent tissue and a report to the a veterinary diagnostic laboratory at Texas A&M; University at College Station. That lab in turn passed it on to the U.S. Army's biodefense lab at Fort Detrick, Md.
In May 1986, two researchers at Fort Detrick wrote of their study of 27 different strains of anthrax, citing the one from Texas as one of the most virulent.
That strain came from an Iowa cow, they wrote.
The mix-up was because the lab in Texas had mailed the tissue in a pre-addressed envelope from a laboratory in Ames, Iowa.
In recent months, Fort Detrick officials found the original mailer, along with Dr. Vickers' report, and correctly announced that the "Ames" strain, as it had become known, was actually from a small ranch near the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.
Since Dr. Vickers' problems with the law, many famous scientists have backed him. "He's doing what is the proper and recommended thing to do," said Dr. Lelve G. Gayle, director of the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at College Station.

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