This week, reports indicated that the Pentagon inadvertently delivered 22 shipments of live anthrax out of military facilities to labs across the country and overseas, over a one-year period ranging from March 2014 to March 2015. This incident caused four lab workers in the U.S., and up to 22 in overseas locations, to receive post-exposure treatment. The Pentagon was notified of the breach after a Maryland-based lab informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that it had received live anthrax samples. The alert triggered an urgent review to determine whether any other live anthrax had been shipped. Given that the anthrax was thought to be dead, the samples were shipped without sufficient care.
At least one of the live samples, which originated in Dugway, UT., was sent via FedEx. Scientists from the lab have consulted the Department of Defense (DoD), who believe there is no risk to the general public. Both the CDC and DoD are continuing investigations into the incident. Authorities indicated that all personnel were provided with appropriate medical precautionary measures, and there were no reported illnesses connected with the incident. Reports indicate that the facility was decontaminated, and the anthrax was destroyed.
Although no one was infected with live anthrax spores, the incident highlights the importance of having proper security procedures in place in the event of a white-powder based emergency. A comprehensive plan should include the training of security and shipment personnel. Proper mailroom screening protocols are also important to ensure the safety of all individuals who may come in contact with a potentially hazardous shipment, by detecting a threat before it endangers anyone. In this case, the Maryland-based lab followed appropriate security procedure by informing the CDC and the DoD of the incident, allowing them to assess the severity of the situation and implement the next steps.
MSA would like to reiterate the importance of receiving timely and accurate intelligence as well as having properly trained personnel, reliable screening measures and current technologies in place. MSA recommends a review of current screening measures and the incorporation of relevant updates. Consider utilizing enhanced screening techniques including visual inspection, x-ray screening and third party review. Additionally, facility security personnel should be trained to note the types of devices that have passed through security measures, to recognize components of potential explosive devices, and to the threat picture as it evolves.