The Pentagon disclosed Wednesday that it inadvertently shipped possibly live anthrax to at least 51 laboratories across the U.S. and in three foreign countries over the past decade, but it has yet to determine how it happened, who is to blame, why it was not discovered earlier and how much worse the embarrassment will get.
One of the few things Pentagon officials said they were sure of is that public health is not at risk.
“We know of no risk to the general public,” Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told a Pentagon news conference.
The anthrax was supposed to have been killed with gamma rays by Defense Department lab technicians before being shipped for use by commercial labs and government facilities in research and the calibration of biohazard sensors. But for reasons not yet explained, the anthrax apparently remained alive.
To compound the error, follow-up lab tests to verify that the anthrax had been killed before being shipped apparently also failed.
Officials said the mistakes appear to have begun in 2005 or 2006, although Work said the Pentagon did not become aware of them until alerted May 22 by an unidentified commercial lab in Maryland. That lab reported that supposedly dead anthrax samples it received from an Army laboratory contained live spores.