Senators question Fort Detrick risks

After a science committee found flaws in the risk assessment for a biodefense animal laboratory at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., the state's two U.S. senators have urged the Army to strengthen its safety planning.
Democratic senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski urged the Army to take a second look at the report's recommendations in a written statement on Friday, the Associated Press reports. The Medical Countermeasures Test and Evaluation Facility is tentatively set to open in 2018 and would be used for animal studies on pathogens and countermeasures requiring a high level of containment to prevent human exposure.
"(We urge you to) review the numerous recommendations in the report and make the necessary modifications to the design that will ensure the safety of the workers in the facility and the surrounding community," the senators wrote, according to the AP.
The Army asked the National Academy of Sciences to review its risk assessment for the 492,000-square-foot facility. Experiments at the lab would include pathogens like the anthrax bacteria and the Marburg and Ebola viruses. The Army estimated the project's price tag at $584 million in 2010.
Lori Calvilo, a spokeswoman for Fort Detrick, said that officials in the Army are reviewing the academy's recommendations and that further risk-assessment efforts are on hold pending completion early next year of a study that will refine the project's scope.
The panel said that a risk assessment should be used to find the most desirable policy or alternative and not viewed "merely as a regulatory hurdle to be overcome," according to the Associated Press. The committee also recommended that the Army look to indirect consequences of adverse events such as a lab worker's accidental exposure to a deadly pathogen and be more forthcoming in public communications about the project.