House committees hear testimony on anthrax shipment

The House Energy and Commerce Committee and a subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday regarding the inadvertent shipment of live anthrax spores from a Department of Defense laboratory.

The committee members heard testimony from Dan Sosin, deputy director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Christian Hassel, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Chemical and Biological Defense; Gregory Demsky, chief counsel to the Inspector General; and Marcia Crosse, director of health care within the Government Accountability Office.

In witness testimony, it was explained that live samples of anthrax were shipped to a private laboratory from the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.

In Hassel's testimony, he states that the department was made aware of this incident on May 22 after the CDC was contacted by the private laboratory. Following this notification, the laboratories that had received shipments from this batch were notified, warned not to use the samples and instructed to follow CDC directives. This was completed by May 25. 

Hassel said the Defense Department took part in testing the remaining 96 samples that had been processed. Of those, 17 had shown signs of regrowth of live spores.

Sosin said eight individuals were identified to have had an increased risk to exposure. At the time of the testimony, none of these individuals had shown complications from anthrax. He also reported that no Dugway personnel have shown signs of infection.

Demsky reported in his testimony that the Dugway facility accidentally shipped anthrax samples with low concentrations of active material in 2007. It was reported that Dugway personnel had ignored results of the viability test in the irradiated sample, and as a result the Office of the Inspector General had issued a notice of violation and recommendations that the facility should re-examine its policies and practices, especially regarding anthrax.

Crosse's testified the Government Accountability Office found recent lapses in safety could be attributed to lapses in the adherence to established protocol and a lack of oversight on high-level containment laboratories.

Within the testimonies, witnesses called on the Defense Department, the CDC and the government to evaluate procedure for the management and invalidation of anthrax spores and overall operations at high-containment laboratory facilities.

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U.S. Department of Defense

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