A research lab run by the U.S. military in Utah that deals with highly-infectious diseases inadvertently sent live Anthrax spores to facilities in nine states as well as one military base in South Korea, Pentagon officials confirmed Wednesday.
As the Washington Post reports:
The first live sample discovered was shipped from Dugway Proving Ground in Utah to an undisclosed facility in Maryland and reported by workers there May 22. Live samples from that same batch — labeled “AG1″ — were sent to laboratories in eight other states, and could have been distributed from there to additional facilities run by the government or private companies, according to a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the incident.
The Pentagon also said that one sample of anthrax was sent to the Joint United States Forces Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition Program at Osan Air Base. It did not clarify whether that same was live.
"The sample was destroyed in accordance with appropriate protocols," said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, in a statement.
Warren said the Department of Defense is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in an investigation to determine what happened.
"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," Warren’s statement said. "Out of an abundance of caution, [the Defense Department] has stopped the shipment of this material from its labs pending completion of the investigation."
Despite assurances from the Pentagon, Dr. Richard Besser, the former head of the Anthrax Unit at the Centers for Disease Control, told ABC News that the mistake should not be downplayed, because of the seriousness of a disease that kills more than 80% of humans who are exposed to it. "This is a big deal," Dr. Besser said. "Not because anyone has gotten sick, but because the potential was there. You're allowed to ship through commercial means, but when you do the precautions are very different. If one of the packages had burst open in transit, it could have been deadly."
On Twitter, noted journalists were gobsmacked by the news:
"Accidentally" shipping live anthrax is quite the slip-up https://t.co/OV0CEeGCQV
— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) May 27, 2015
— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) May 28, 2015
I fuck up. We all do. Usually that doesn't involve sending live anthrax to Korea by mistake. http://t.co/4VumgN4rgj
— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) May 27, 2015