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Last Updated

13 Jan 2003

Source: Washington Post, April 20, 2002.

Anthrax Spores Escape a Lab at Fort Detrick

By Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer

Spores of the anthrax bacterium have been discovered in two areas of an Army research building at Fort Detrick, Md., and an Army scientist involved in research there has tested positive for exposure to the potentially deadly microbes, the Army said last night.

The scientist's exposure and the spread of the spores in the building appeared to be accidental and were not being treated as evidence of a crime or of unauthorized work in the high-security labs, according to the Army.

The scientist, whose name was not released, had previously been vaccinated against the disease and has no symptoms, said Army public affairs officer Chuck Dasey. That scientist and another who worked in the same building but who tested negative for exposure are both taking antibiotics as a precaution, Dasey said.

Officials remain uncertain how the spores escaped from the laboratory inside Building 1425, where the bacteria were the subject of ongoing experiments.

The Army would not characterize the nature of the experiments except to say they involved "biodefense" and were unrelated to the FBI investigation into last fall's terrorist mailings of anthrax spores.

Suspicions of trouble first arose April 8, when the two scientists noticed some liquid and dried deposits on the outside of a flask in the biosafety level 3 lab, a highly secure sealed lab used for dangerous pathogens.

Normally, Dasey said, such liquids and powders would be expected to be better contained.

In addition to testing the two scientists for exposure to the bacteria, dozens of environmental tests were conducted to check for the presence of spores in adjacent rooms and hallways. Results arrived Thursday and two were positive -- one in an administrative room adjacent to the lab in the research building and one in a nearby hallway, Dasey said.

Yesterday, about 100 employees were moved out of the building so that more extensive environmental testing and decontamination procedures could be initiated.

Dasey said the anthrax studies underway at the lab were not classified. He said he did not know whether the strain under study was the so-called Ames strain used in last fall's attacks, which killed five people and sickened more than a dozen others.