Committee finds Fort Detrick biocontainment labs not a threat

The National Research Council has released a report at Congress' behest that finds several problems in the U.S. Army's environmental impact statement for its expansion of Fort Detrick's bicontainment laboratories.

According to the report, current safety procedures and regulations at Fort Detrick, located in Frederick, Maryland, meet or exceed accepted standards. This, the report says, gives the committee responsible for the report confidence that workers and the public will be appropriately protected.

Public meetings were held by the National Research Council as a means of gathering information from officials at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases as well as contractors involved in the development of its environmental impact statement.

The committee also gathered information from Fort Detrick emergency personnel, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners and members of the local community. Officials with the Frederick Memorial Hospital and Frederick County's emergency management and health departments also spoke to the committee.

The original environmental impact statement estimated the potential effects of potential mishaps at the new facilities, though the committee could not verify the estimates, which stated that such an event would create insignificant ground concentrations in the surround environment and wouldn't pose a hazard to the nearby community.

Data supporting the estimated effects was lacking, missing or not transparent, the committee said. Further, the committee's calculations showed the potential for higher exposure in the surrounding area and could pose a health risk.

The environmental impact statement also failed to adequately document or characterize individual risk of exposure or infection. it also failed to consider potential exposures to workers and others on the base.

The committee, however, determined that specific revisions to the impact statement would not be useful as construction has already begun on the new facilities. The committee instead called for hazard assessments of biocontainment facilities.