Documents reveal Army lab mishaps

Documents recently released by the U.S. Army Institute of Infectious Diseases show that 57 incidents, ranging from slips on wet floors to animal bites, occurred at its Fort Detrick biodefense laboratory in Maryland, according to reports released by the Frederick News-Post.

The Frederick News-Post received four years’ worth of incident reports last week through the Freedom of Information Act.

More reports were filed in 2009 than in all three of the past years put together, according to the News-Post report. Records showed that 42 reports were filed in 2008, 60 in 2007 and 49 in 2006. Sixteen potential exposures were also reported last year.

USAMRIID spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden noted the type and severity of the incidents vary each year, thus making it hard to determine safety trends. More than two-thirds of the 2009 incident reports filed involved accidents outside containment labs, including several back injuries and slips.

Vander Linden told the News-Post that it may seem as if employees are over-reporting trivial incidents, but “It's better to get people into the habit of reporting everything and let the medical professionals decide.”

Not reporting an incident, Vander Linden told the News-Post, could potentially lead to a lab-acquired infection, which is what happened last November when a military researcher infected herself with the tularemia bacteria. The researcher was sick for two to three weeks before being diagnosed with the disease.

Vander Linden said there was not one specific event, but rather a series of “procedural errors” that allowed the researcher to infect herself.

Vander Linden said USAMRIID tries to prevent such exposures through extensive training on standard operating procedures.