Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work outlined the findings of a comprehensive report launched after the inadvertent shipment of live anthrax samples to a commercial laboratory on Thursday in a press conference.
Four laboratories of the Department of Defense (DOD) manage anthrax sampling: the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the Naval Medical Research Center and the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center in Maryland.
These facilities perform an irradiation procedure that eliminates live spores and they take part in verification of success of destroying the live nature of the samples. According to the report, 17 batches of inactivated samples showed to have had re-growth of live samples.
Work stated that there are two factors that more than likely caused the incident: there are no standards unifying operations across DOD laboratories in terms of biohazard protocol, and nationally no inactivation procedure standard exists for the inactivation of anthrax samples.
The report found that the sample for inactivation evaluation was the lowest among labs that manage anthrax inactivation. This coupled with the short time frame between irradiation and evaluation allowed live spore samples to make it past inspection.
“The American public expects much more from us, and we should expect much more from ourselves,” Work said. “Secretary Carter has made plain he expects these issues be dealt with swiftly and comprehensively to ensure that a failure of this sort never happens again.”
Changes that will be needed include standardization of irradiation and viability testing procedures, sufficient funding and increased review and oversight on DOD biosafety and biosecurity policy and practices.