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3 Sep, 2015 22:36

Anthrax fallout: Pentagon to freeze operations at 9 bio-labs 

Anthrax fallout: Pentagon to freeze operations at 9 bio-labs 

The Pentagon is allegedly planning to halt all activity at nine labs nationwide which have been working with toxins, pathogens and bacteria after an incident at a lab in Utah which sent living anthrax to all 50 states and nine other countries.

The moratorium means “nobody is shipping anything” and it is unclear how long it will last, USA Today reported, citing defense officials. The decision was made after a review of military labs, which revealed several problems concerning the handling of dangerous pathogens, administrative issues and the different interpretations of policies in various laboratories.

On Tuesday the Pentagon confirmed that the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah had sent live anthrax to 194 labs in all 50 states and Washington D.C., US insular areas Guam, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and nine countries: Japan, United Kingdom, Korea, Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Norway and Switzerland.

This is several times more than the number announced in May when the scandal initially broke. A private biotech company in Maryland, which participated in a project developing diagnostic tests for biological terror pathogens, found out that the allegedly dead anthrax sent from the Utah lab was capable of growing.

The subsequent investigation revealed that living anthrax had been sent from the Dugway Proving Ground for ten years because of ineffective sterilization methods involved in killing the bacteria. No people have been infected.

That is not an extraordinary case for the US research facilities. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US laboratories mishandled dangerous biological materials at least 1,100 times between 2008 and 2012.

READ MORE: Bio-shambles: Over 1,100 pathogen leaks in US labs in 5 years – CDC

According to the USA Today investigation, in recent years more than 100 labs have been punished for breaches of safety regulations.

Anthrax is lethal disease caused by the bacterium ‘Bacillus anthracis.' The bacteria can form dormant endospores that are capable of surviving in harsh conditions for decades and ‘activating’ after being inhaled, ingested or just after contact with the skin.