Fort Detrick risk assessment inadequate, experts warn

A National Research Council report ordered by the U.S. government said that the risk-assessment of a new facility at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, is not adequate to assess public risk from accidents.  

The facility will be used to conduct research into vaccines and drugs to protect against outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola, plague, encephalitis, brucellosis, tularemia and anthrax. The report said that there are substantial holes in the plan to assess the facility's risk to the community and a researcher close to the project said he would give the plan a C- if he had to grade it, the Daily Caller reports.

"We reviewed the work plan, and our findings were that, as laid out, it will not lead to a robust estimate of risk,” Charles Haas, the chair of the NRC committee, said, according to the Daily Caller. “They need to do a more thorough evaluation of the potential events that could occur. Whether or not they prove to be the most serious, those are the ones that result in the highest level of concern in adjacent communities.”

According to the report, areas in which the risk assessment isn't sufficient include a limited range of potential occupational exposures, a lack of exploration of indirect consequences, effects of design changes, a lack of a failure analysis and pathogen maps that do not explore all potential routes of exposure.

Haas said that the Army is not required to follow the recommendations of the committee, the Daily Caller reports. The next step is for Maj. Gen. James Gilman, the commander at Ft. Detrick, and his staff to review the report and choose how to proceed.

Beth Willis, the chair of the Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee, said that the committee's role is to hear public concerns and communicate productively with the people who run the lab.

“The community didn’t have a choice in the labs coming here, but the community has a right to understand how the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies, are defining an acceptable risk,” Willis said, according to the Daily Caller. “That needs to be made clear to us. So far that hasn’t been done, and we hope it will be when this new risk assessment is actually created.”