- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

An accident at a DoD lab in Utah may have exposed more than 20 American military personnel to anthrax, the Air Force said Wednesday.

Officials at Osan Air Force Base in South Korea said that while nobody has shown “any signs” of exposure or sickness, “twenty-two personnel may have been exposed during the training event” and have been treated in some cases with antibiotics or vaccinations.

The revelation came after the Defense Department acknowledged having accidentally shipped two live samples of anthrax to labs in Maryland and South Korea.

A military lab at Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah, shipped at least those two live samples, sparking the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to test seven other samples suspected of being alive, a senior defense official said.

The military facility in Utah followed the procedure to kill a large batch of anthrax with radiation before splitting it into smaller pieces and sending it off to a mix of both commercial civilian and government labs for research, the official said. Despite that, a live sample arrived at a Maryland lab on May 22, prompting researchers to call the CDC.

On May 23, the CDC notified all the other labs that received anthrax from that sample that they would be collecting them and testing to see if any others were still alive.

The live sample discovered in South Korea was destroyed, according to both the Defense Department statement and the release by Air Force base officials in Korea.

“There is no risk to the public,” said the statement from the 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs office.

There are still no results on the other samples, the senior defense official said. It’s unclear if the labs who received the shipment gave it to other subcontractor labs after receipt.

Anthrax from this sample was also sent to labs in Texas, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, Tennessee, New York, California and Virginia, the official said.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren stressed that no one was at risk of becoming sick.

“The Department of Defense is collaborating with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in their investigation of the inadvertent transfer of samples containing live anthrax from DoD labs,” he said. “There is no known risk to the general public and there are no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection in potentially exposed lab workers.”

The Dugway Proving Grounds, located about 85 miles west of Salt Lake City, conducts research and testing to develop defenses for chemical, biological, radiological and explosives hazards, according to its website. About 1,700 employees worked at the base as of February 2014.

The lab was working to develop “a field-based test to identify biological threats in the environment,” Col. Warren said in a statement.

“Out of an abundance of caution, DoD has stopped the shipment of this material from its labs pending completion of the investigation,” he continued.

The general public became aware of anthrax after bioterror attacks in 2001 that spread the white powder through the U.S. mail, killing five and making 22 ill, according to the National Institutes of Health website.

A person can become infected with anthrax by contact with the skin, inhalation of bacterial spores or ingesting the meat of an animal with the disease. The CDC website said that symptoms, ranging from sores on the skin to fever to nausea, can take up to two months to appear after exposure.

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