The Pentagon on Friday said labs in two more states inadvertently received suspected samples of live anthrax, bringing to 11 the total number of states that were accidentally shipped the pathogen by a military lab.
The two additional states are Utah and Massachusetts, joining California, Texas, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin as the recipient states.
The Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah also inadvertently sent possible live anthrax spores to a commercial lab in Australia, the second foreign country to receive the apparently mislabeled shipments.
Pentagon officials said as many as 24 commercial, university or military research labs in the 11 states, plus South Korea and Australia, may have received live anthrax samples from the Utah testing facility.
“As a result, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work has ordered a review of all Department of Defense (DOD) labs,” Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said.
Lawmakers from both parties had already responded angrily to the initial news of the inadvertent shipments, firing off letters to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Army Secretary John McHugh and Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC, which is leading the investigation into the mishap, shed new light Friday on how the apparently mistaken shipments came to light.
“The CDC investigation was started after a request for technical consultation from a private commercial lab,” the federal health agency said in a statement.
“The lab was working as part of a DOD effort to develop a new diagnostic test to identify biological threats,” the CDC said. “Although an inactivated agent was expected, the lab reported they were able to grow live Bacillus anthracis.”
Bacillus anthracis is the scientific name for anthrax, a deadly bacterial pathogen that burst into American public consciousness in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Over the course of several weeks then, five people died and 17 survived infection after anthrax-laced letters were sent to several news organization and to the offices of two U.S. senators. No one has ever faced charges for sending the letters.
The CDC said Friday that it had dispatched experts in biological toxins to the Defense Departments labs to conduct on-site inspections.
The Pentagon said that Work had ordered “a comprehensive review of DOD laboratory procedures, processes and protocols associated with inactivating spore-forming anthrax.”
“There is no known risk to the general public and an extremely low risk to lab workers from the department’s inadvertent shipments of inactivated samples containing small numbers of live anthrax to several laboratories,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The CDC said: “At this time we do not suspect any risk to the general public.”
The Defense Department advised its labs that had received inactive anthrax to stop working with the samples until receiving further instruction.
The Pentagon indicated that punishments may be coming for individuals who sent the live anthrax spores.
“After the CDC investigation is complete, the department will conduct its own investigation with respect to any lapses in performance and ensure appropriate accountability,” the Pentagon said.
Warren said Thursday that 22 personnel at Osan Air Base, a U.S. Air Force hub in South Korea that received the errant shipments, were taking the antibiotic Cipro as a precaution against anthrax exposure. But he declined to talk about whether workers at labs or other facilities in the United States were also taking Cipro.
Tony Pugh of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed