Panel questions risk of Fort Detrick lab

A National Academy of Sciences panel has revealed that the U.S. Army failed to analyze fully the public exposure risks of deadly pathogens from a Fort Detrick biodefense laboratory.

The panel urged the Army to improve risk assessment in the future at the $680 million Maryland project. Ground was broken for the new U.S. Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases lab in August, approximately 2.5 years after an environmental impact statement that was the focus of the panel was approved by federal regulators.

The scheduled opening for the lab is May 2014. It will replace the current crowded facilities that date to the 1960s.

The panel found that, despite the failures in risk analysis, the safety procedures and regulations at the existing labs either meet or exceed accepted standards, which provide for a high degree of confidence in the protection of workers and the public.

Charles N. Haas, a professor of environmental engineering at Drexel University chaired the panel, which found numerous flaws in the project's risk assessment, including the estimated effects of a worst-case scenario that involved exhaust stacks releasing the Ebola virus and the Q fever bacteria.

According to the Army, such an event would create insignificant concentrations on the ground in close proximity to the exhaust stacks but would pose no threat to the community.

The panel, however, said that the conclusion's environmental statement was "lacking, missing or not transparent," according to, which also noted the the calculations by the committee "indicated the potential for significantly higher exposure."

The environmental statement, the panel said, also failed to consider the threat of an insider with malicious intent or the potential for exposures to those at Fort Detrick.