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Pentagon halts work at Defense labs handling toxins, anthrax

By Amy R. Connolly
Pentagon halts work at Defense labs handling toxins, anthrax
Under a high magnification of 12,483X, this scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicted spores from the Sterne strain of Bacillus anthracis bacteria, or anthrax. Thursday, the U.S. Army issued an immediate safety review of all Defense Department labs that handle biologic agents, including anthrax. Image courtesy CDC

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army on Thursday ordered the immediate halt of activity and a safety review of all Defense Department labs handling toxic biologic agents, including anthrax, after contaminated material was found outside a primary containment area in a Utah military lab.

The Pentagon said anthrax contamination was found "in secure areas located outside the primary containment area but still contained within the special enclosed lab for holding these materials" at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. The area was immediately decontaminated and has since found to be clear of the deadly agent. No one was injured.

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Army Secretary John McHugh ordered an immediate review of all nine Defense Department laboratories involved in the handling of dangerous agents and toxins following the discovery. Each lab must report back to him within 10 days. At the same time, all shipments of anthrax and other biologic agents have been suspended.

The announcement on Thursday comes after the Centers for Disease Control found incomplete record keeping at Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, both in Maryland. Military leaders also launched an investigation to determine how Pentagon facilities inadvertently shipped live anthrax to labs worldwide earlier this year.

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"They are continuing to assess the situation at Dugway and these other facilities for safety, and moving forward, exactly how these substances get handled, and the question of accountability, as well," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said.

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