An Army investigation into anthrax contamination outside secure labs at the nation’s chief biodefense research facility in Maryland blames cavalier attitudes for the safety breach, reports the Los Angeles Times. The anthrax leaks were detected in April 2002 at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick, Md. Officials at the facility, which served as the chief forensic lab for the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people, revamped security and safety rules last year. Discovery of the leaks caused a scare in nearby Frederick when it was thought that a laundry contractor could have handled contaminated garments from the lab. No one became ill.
The Army report, obtained Thursday by The Times, also showed that some researchers at the facility doubted its commitment to biosafety. “The safety program may be more about insulating the institute from criticism than from protecting the workers,” one lab supervisor told a military investigator in the detailed report completed in May 2002 and just released under the Freedom of Information Act. The leaks were detected by a researcher who was conducting independent tests outside the chain of command, triggering the investigation. No employee was disciplined for safety violations, said an institute spokesman.