Research halted at alleged anthrax mailer's former lab
Work at the US Army's top biological weapons defense laboratory has been halted, the Associated Press confirms a story first reported on a science magazine's blog.
"The lab was the workplace of Bruce Ivins, who killed himself in July after learning he would be charged in the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people," the AP notes. "A memo obtained by The Associated Press says workers are examining the contents of all refrigerators and freezers at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick."
The article continues, "Institute commander Col. John Skvorak wrote that he believes some vials of pathogens and toxins are likely not listed in a laboratory database."
Science Insider first reported on the memo last Friday, who also noted that the "['anthrax mailer'] case never went to trial because of Ivins's suicide on 29 July 2008, FBI officials have claimed that the evidence against him is indisputable and that he carried out the mailings using anthrax stolen from a flask at USAMRIID."
The blog added, "All experiments using select agents will remain suspended until the accounting is finished, which could take several weeks. Several USAMRIID researchers have been grumbling about the decision, which seems to have caught them by surprise, according to a government official not connected to the lab."
"I believe that the probability that there are additional vials of BSAT [biological select agents and toxins] not captured in our … database is high," Skvorak wrote in the memo.
Jason Sigger and Noah Shachtman, at Wired.com, observe that USAMRIID is "the only place in the American military complex equipped to handle the worst of the worst diseases -- those that have no cure and can are transmissible by air."
They called the lab's shutdown "extremely unnerving."
"This is not a good thing," Sigger and Schachtman write. "After all the hullabaloo surrounding the Ivins case, it's a little surprising to find Army researchers reluctant to toe the line on biosecurity issues."
The article continues, "It's not clear right now whether the issue is new regulations that need to be fine-tuned -- or scientists not worried enough about prudent security regulations. Whatever the case, we ought to expect the Army's premiere Army biodefense research lab to be leading the private and academic institutions in sound security practices. Over the past year or so, the Army has been leading the development of regulations to better safeguard its research facilities. Ironically, now that the regs are completed, it's USAMRIID itself that still needs work on tightening up its shop."