Army chief orders safety review at facilities handling toxic agents

The secretary of the Army has directed an immediate review of safety procedures at all Defense Department labs and facilities involved in the handling of toxic agents, such as anthrax, the Pentagon said Thursday.

The review ordered by Secretary John McHugh follows the discovery of anthrax contamination at a facility in Utah along with instances of incomplete record keeping at two other facilities in the United States.

All facilities subject to the review are ordered to report back their findings within 10 days, according to a memorandum signed by McHugh and released by the Army.

According to the Pentagon, evidence of anthrax contamination was discovered outside the primary containment area where it would normally be handled at the Dugway Proving Ground facility in Utah. The materials were still contained within the special enclosed lab where the materials are handled, but were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Army said.

The contamination was discovered during an ongoing investigation at Dugway ordered by the Defense Department earlier this year after live anthrax samples had been shipped from Pentagon labs to 86 research facilities in the United States and at least seven foreign countries over the last several years.

While it was determined there was no evidence of exposure of anthrax to employees at Dugway, or a risk to the general public, the Army said the facility commander did order a full decontamination of the biosafety area after the discovery, and that anthrax was not detected following a retesting of the area.

Thursday’s announcement also followed findings by the CDC of incomplete record keeping at the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center in Maryland, and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, ordered an investigation earlier this year to determine how live anthrax was inadvertently shipped from Pentagon facilities.

They are continuing to assess the situation at Dugway and these other facilities for safety, and moving forward, exactly how these substances get handled, and the question of accountability, as well,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters about the ongoing investigation.

An announcement of the report’s findings is expected next month.

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