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Anthrax Exposure

Story at-a-glance -

  • A US Army laboratory shipped live anthrax to all 50 states (totaling 194 labs), three territories, Washington, D.C., and nine other countries
  • The anthrax was supposed to be inactive upon transfer, but the spores were inadequately inactivated
  • A government report revealed multiple breakdowns in compliance and inadequate oversight of high-containment laboratories run by the US government
 

Anthrax Exposure: Government Agencies Placing Your Health at Risk

September 16, 2015 | 35,067 views

By Dr. Mercola

It was back in May 2015 when the first reports surfaced. The Pentagon announced that Dugway Proving Ground, an Army laboratory in Utah, sent out live anthrax to commercial labs in nine states over a period spanning from March 2014 to March 2015.1

The anthrax was reportedly part of a routine research process, but it was supposed to be inactive upon transfer. A lab in Maryland was the first to notify the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the anthrax they received was in fact live, and it turned out the other shipments were live as well.

As of September, another announcement was made, this time showing the live anthrax was shipped to far more laboratories than was previously disclosed.

Instead of nine states, the live anthrax was actually shipped out to all 50 states (totaling 194 labs), three territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands), Washington, D.C., and nine other countries (Japan, United Kingdom, South Korea, Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland).

What Caused the 'Worst Biosafety Fiasco' in Years?

At this time the Pentagon states they have not found a "single root cause," but there were two known errors made. As Forbes reported:2

"Dugway made two major errors repeatedly over a decade. First, they failed to irradiate the anthrax spores adequately to inactivate them. Second, their tests to confirm that the anthrax was dead were inadequate.

The same pattern was seen last year in a lapse by the CDC, which sent live anthrax spores to another lab… someone took shortcuts, using unapproved sterilization techniques.

… The Pentagon placed the blame for the anthrax fiasco on a lack of scientific consensus. Instead, they should look at why they have allowed inadequate procedures to go on for decades without appropriate safeguards and why there is no consensus between the CDC and Defense Department as to how anthrax should be treated."

While there have been no reported deaths or illnesses as a result of the mishap, more than 30 people have received antibiotics as a precaution.

Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report Reveals Repeated Safety Lapses

In government laboratories, researchers work with some of the highest-risk biological agents known, agents that may cause serious or deadly infections in the general population should they be released or fall into the wrong hands. Yet, a recent report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed inadequate oversight and other problems at such labs. According to GAO:3

"Recent safety lapses — including shipments of live anthrax bacteria from the Department of Defense (DOD) to U.S. and international laboratories and potential exposures of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laboratory personnel to live anthrax bacteria.

They have illustrated multiple breakdowns in compliance with established policies and inadequate oversight of high-containment laboratories."

Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh also ordered an immediate security review at the nine Department of Defense labs involved in the production and handling of select agents and toxins.4 But as the GAO report pointed out, this isn't the first time that US government agencies have put the public's health at risk.

Major Safety Lapses at the CDC

Last year, as many as 84 scientists and staff members at a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) biolab were exposed to live anthrax. The live pathogen had been sent from a higher-security facility. Biosafety protocols were apparently not followed at either of the facilities.

The anthrax sample was supposed to have been inactivated prior to transfer, but due to multiple protocol breaches, it was still "live" upon arrival.

In addition to failing to properly inactivate the pathogen, samples were also found to have been transferred in Ziploc bags, and stored in unlocked storage refrigerators in an area where unauthorized personnel were free to wander by.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, head of the CDC, issued a report that admitted to sloppy work ethics at the lab.5 The report also revealed two additional anthrax incidents, both of which occurred in 2006.

Neither of these incidents had previously been disclosed to the public. In both instances, the CDC "accidentally" shipped live anthrax to two different labs.

A third erroneous shipment involved live botulism bacteria. It seems we can all count ourselves lucky that the CDC hasn't killed large numbers of people yet through all these sloppy mistakes!

And there's more… last year the CDC also shipped deadly H5N1 avian influenza samples to a Department of Agriculture poultry research lab.6 They were supposed to send a far more benign variety for study... The error appears to have been discovered when all of the exposed chickens died.

The Agriculture Department reported the frightful mix-up on May 23, 2014, but CDC staffers didn't report the error to senior management at the CDC until July. Then there was yet another mix-up in December, when employees in a CDC Ebola lab were potentially exposed to the virus after a technician mistakenly moved the wrong specimens from a high-level to a lower-level lab.

An external group of 11 experts in biosafety, laboratory science, and research was called to form an advisory group to evaluate the CDC's lab practices, and it concluded its commitment to safety is "inconsistent and insufficient" and "laboratory safety training is inadequate."7

Did CDC Researchers Cover Up a Link Between the MMR Vaccine and Autism?

Dr. William Thompson, a research scientist at the CDC's National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases (NCIR), claimed that the CDC covered up a vaccine-autism connection in relation to the MMR vaccine.

The study reportedly discovered that African-American boys who received the MMR vaccine before the age of 36 months had an increased risk for autism. Dr. Thompson stated the study co-authors then "scheduled a meeting to destroy documents related to the study."

"The remaining four co-authors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room, and reviewed and went through all the hardcopy documents that we had thought we should discard, and put them into a huge garbage can."8

Dr. Thompson has stated that he retained the hard copies in the event a "neutral investigative or scientific body" would like to see it. However, as Sharyl Attkisson reported:9

"Despite this whistleblower testimony, which Dr. Thompson provided to Rep. Bill Posey, R-Florida, there is little chance of a meaningful hearing or investigation. In an untainted news environment, the allegations would make headlines in most legitimate publications and would trigger federal inquiries.

However, the interests of the powerful pharmaceutical industry reach deeply into Congress and the news media through lobbyists, propaganda, and advertising dollars."

US FDA Also Loses Credibility

Aside from the Department of Defense and the CDC, the US Food and Drug Administration has been facing its own reputation hurdles. The Wall Street Journal reported on a number of court cases that struck down the FDA, eroding its credibility. They wrote:10

"It is as if somebody stamped 'LOSER' on the Food and Drug Administration's forehead… In one significant court case after another… federal judges have slapped down the agency, eroding its credibility, tempering its aggressiveness, and emboldening its industry adversaries.

… [A] federal judge… invalidated a rule requiring drug companies to test some medicines on children. That loss followed two Supreme Court defeats that killed the agency's much-ballyhooed attempt to regulate tobacco and lesser-known restrictions on pharmacies advertising special drug mixtures.

Previously, its dietary-supplement rules were successfully challenged, as was its oversight of the marketing of unapproved uses of prescription drugs, known as 'off-label' treatments. Other setbacks involved drug patents and other less-visible issues.

… The FDA and its supporters acknowledge the recent court losses have taken a bite out of its credibility, but insist critics have overblown their impact. In some cases, FDA advocates note, judges ruled against provisions in a congressionally enacted law, as opposed to rules the agency initiated on its own."

Decades of Potentially Deadly Biolab Errors

Over the years, there have been many other deadly biolab mistakes and government agency failures. For instance, in 2014 scientists discovered a number of old, unapproved vials of the deadly smallpox virus in a "forgotten storage room" on the National Institutes for Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland. A total of one dozen boxes containing nearly 330 vials of an array of pathogens, including dengue and spotted fever were eventually uncovered.11 The FDA has the responsibility of overseeing the NIH lab. Other errors that have occurred over the decades include, but are not limited to, the following:

In 1971, a former Soviet biological weapons testing facility released a deadly strain of hemorrhagic smallpox — allegedly during an open-air test. Hundreds were quarantined, 50,000 people were vaccinated, and three people died.12
In 1978, a University of Birmingham laboratory inadvertently released the smallpox virus, which ended up killing a British medical photographer.13
In 1979, there was an "accidental atmospheric release" of anthrax in Sverdlovsk, Russia, which killed 64 of the 94 infected individuals.14
During the mid-1980s, Bayer sold millions of dollars worth of an injectable blood-clotting medicine to Asian, Latin American, and some European countries, knowing it was tainted with the AIDS virus. This is yet another example of how deadly pathogens can make their way out of the lab and into the human population.
In 2001, US Army biodefense scientist Bruce Ivins allegedly mailed letters containing a live research strain of anthrax from the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Shortly thereafter, he committed suicide. Five people died from the exposure.
In 2004, a lab in Maryland accidentally sent live anthrax to a California children's hospital. The CDC investigated the incident and created recommendations designed to make sure something like this would never happen again, yet the near-identical chain of mistakes and protocol failures later occurred at their own facility.15
In 2009, Baxter accidentally sent vaccines contaminated with live and deadly avian (bird) flu to a research facility in Europe. The mistake originated in a Baxter plant operating under Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) status – meaning that high-level precautions are supposed to be in place to make sure an accident like this never happens. The company blamed the incident on human error, again demonstrating that, apparently, it takes just one absent-minded researcher to circumvent the highest-level biosafety system currently in existence.
In 2012, it was discovered that the bioterror germ lab at the CDC in Atlanta (the same building where one of the anthrax safety breaches occurred) has had repeated problems with airflow systems designed to help prevent the release of infectious agents such as anthrax, dangerous strains of influenza, the SARS coronavirus, and monkeypox.

Air from a research lab in one of the Biosafety Level 3 buildings was being vented into a so-called "clean" area, where visitors are not required to wear protective gear. While no one was infected, the problems were major violations of laboratory operating standards.16,17
Also in 2012, a vaccine researcher at the Northern California Institute for Research died shortly after being infected with the Neisseria meningitides bacteria at work. He was working on a vaccine against the pathogen, and according to the site chief was following required precautions for working with the deadly pathogens.18

Who's Going to Protect the Public Now?

There's no doubt that biosafety problems such as the ones discussed above pose a grave danger to public health. And when the gold standard of biorisk safety — the CDC — itself repeatedly fails to follow its own safety protocols, you know we're in trouble... Even with new biorisk management standards, such as those backed by the World Health Organization (WHO), it's questionable whether the risks associated with bioterror research labs can really be eradicated.

Pandemic viruses that could kill off large portions of the population are generally kept for vaccine development. We're repeatedly warned that a deadly outbreak could occur at any moment, and we're told that it's imperative to give vaccine manufacturers the leeway needed to create new vaccines, fast. What they don't tell you, however, is that this research in and of itself poses one of the greatest risks for creating the outbreak in the first place!

At present, pending the ongoing safety review, the US Army has suspended production, handling, testing and shipment of anthrax and certain other agents and toxins. The suspension applies to all four Department of Defense labs that are involved in these activities.19

Ironically (or perhaps absurdly), the CDC, which, remember, an independent team of experts deemed to be basically incompetent when it comes to safety, is going to be in charge of investigating the four Pentagon labs…20 The CDC safety advisory group has also called for all CDC labs to go through an external review and accreditation process, and also recommended:21

  • Funding for lab safety programs and standardized training
  • Implementing risk assessments
  • Establishing a system of responsible science and accountability
  • Rewarding researchers who run safe labs
  • Hiring a director to oversee lab safety

This is a step in the right direction, but it's clear we cannot blindly accept safety assurances from our federal agencies, not even the CDC, which is in charge of biosafety. It's also clear that we're in dire need for truly independent oversight of these kinds of facilities.

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