U.S. Army says series of failures led to errant anthrax shipments; Twelve face discipline

By Doug G. Ware  |  Updated Jan. 15, 2016 at 5:01 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- A dozen members of the U.S. Army face discipline after an investigation found a series of errors that led an Army biodefense lab to send live anthrax to various other labs for a decade, officials said Friday.

Army officials detailed the results of an investigation during a news conference Friday.

Officials said several factors contributed to the mistakes, and that an Army brigadier general and 11 others were identified as being directly involved. The general, William King IV, was blamed for facilitating a "complacent atmosphere."

"While I cannot comment on the ongoing investigation, the safety of our soldiers, families and local community remains of utmost importance," King said in a statement Friday.

"The preponderance of evidence with respect to the investigation yielded the fact that no single event, no single individual, no groups of individuals are directly responsible for the inadvertent shipment of a small amount of active anthrax," Army Maj. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, who led the investigation, said. "We did find through evidence that a combination of events, including gaps of science, institutional issues and personal accountability, when taken together, each contributed to this event."

The six-month investigation began last year after it was discovered that live anthrax was sent to various U.S. labs and nine foreign countries, when the pathogen should have been neutralized.

The errant shipments had been happening for about a decade, officials said.

The purpose of the supposedly inert anthrax was to allow the labs to develop countermeasures to possible bioterror attacks.

"With respect to individual accountability, we saw failures to take action, we saw best practices by lab technicians not being used, and so the intent is to ensure that the secretary of the Army and the leadership of the Army has an opportunity to adjudicate that," Ostrowski said.

The live anthrax was sent from Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, an Army facility located just west of Salt Lake City. On Friday, the Army said Dugway will no longer be allowed to send anthrax or other pathogens to other labs.

No infections were reported at any of the labs that received live anthrax instead of inert material.

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