Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Live Anthrax Samples Mistakenly Shipped From Pentagon to Nine States, South Korea
May 27, 2015 9:55 p.m. ET

Live samples of the anthrax virus were inadvertently sent from a Defense Department research facility to labs in nine states as well as a military base in South Korea, but there were no known incidents of exposure to the virus, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

Col. Steve Warren, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said there was “no known risk to the general public” or any confirmed cases of anthrax infection in workers who potentially were exposed to the samples.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the inadvertent transfer of samples with live Bacillus anthracis, or anthrax, from a defense lab in Dugway, Utah. Col. Warren said the Pentagon would assist with that investigation.

The sample sent to Osan Air Base in South Korea was destroyed. In a statement, the U.S. military in South Korea said twenty-two personnel may have been exposed. All were given medical treatment, including antibiotics and vaccinations. None has shown any symptoms of exposure, the military said.

The samples, from a batch of anthrax labeled AG-1, were sent by commercial overnight shipping companies from March 2014 through March 30 of this year. That batch was supposed to have been exposed to gamma radiation to render it inert, officials said. Half of the batch remained at Dugway, and half was divided and sent to various labs.

A civilian, commercial lab in Maryland, which first received a sample in March 2014, realized a year later that the sample contained live spores. The lab then contacted the CDC.

The military tested the remaining AG-1 sample at Dugway and confirmed that the Anthrax was still live.

The military and CDC are investigating whether the full batch was irradiated improperly or if some other error occurred, allowing live samples to be sent. A military official said it is simply not known what went wrong with the sample.

The CDC is gathering the samples that were sent out and bringing them back for further testing, defense officials said.

The anthrax was sent out from the Dugway Proving Ground during regular Pentagon tests on how to identify biological threats in the environment, Col. Warren said. The Pentagon uses commercial shippers to send both live and inactive anthrax spores, which are packaged to avoid any inadvertent exposure, a defense official said.

Inactive spores are more commonly shipped, officials said.

Labs receiving the live anthrax samples were in Texas, Maryland, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, Tennessee, New York, California and Virginia, officials said. Those labs were using the anthrax for various research projects.

The sample sent to South Korea was shipped to the Integrated Threat Recognition Program at Osan Air Base, Col. Warren said.

Because of the unintended shipments, the Pentagon has ordered a halt to any shipments of anthrax—live or inactive—from its labs.

The CDC didn’t respond to questions about the investigation.

—Alastair Gale contributed to this article.

Write to Julian E. Barnes at

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