The live pathogen had been sent from another, higher-security facility, which failed to follow biosafety protocols. According to one report:3
“The exposure incident is unprecedented in the history of American research on bioweapons and other deadly pathogens, prompting alarm among researchers who have already warned about the consequences of lax laboratory oversight globally.
Scientists in and out of the CDC say the process of handling such bacteria and viruses must be improved.”
While unprecedented in terms of the number of people exposed, this isn’t the first time this kind of potentially lethal blunder has occurred with live anthrax in the US. Also, it’s not unprecedented in global terms.
In the 1979 Sverdlovsk incident, 94 Russians were exposed to anthrax through an accidental release, and 64 of them died. Incidents such as these really raise questions about mankind’s ability to contain the lethal microorganisms being studied (and created) in labs around the world.
In this case, the anthrax sample was supposed to have been inactivated prior to transfer, but for a variety of reasons it wasn’t dead on arrival.
The director of the CDC’s Bioterror Rapid Response and Advanced Technology Laboratory, Michael Farrell, has since been reassigned,4 and two Congressional committees are monitoring the situation to determine whether public hearings are warranted.
Natural Pandemics versus Accidental Releases of Bioweapons
All affected personnel are being treated with potent antibiotics and some have also taken an anthrax vaccine to fend off the lethal infection. But as noted byScientific American,5 the issues here go beyond figuring out why safety procedures weren’t followed in this particular incident.
“[W]hich is the more likely threat to public safety—a series of accidental releases of deadly organisms from the high-level biodefense labs that have proliferated in the wake of the anthrax attacks of 2001 or a single, but much bigger, intentional release by an actual terrorist network?” Scientific American asks.
Indeed, while the fear of a mutated virus turning into a pandemic is flouted virtually every year to some degree, a far greater concern appears to be the potential for an engineered bioweapon somehow escaping the confines of our top level bioterror labs.6, 7
The latest failure to follow safety procedures again highlights the fact that seemingly unbelievable errors can and do occur, despite all promises to the contrary. Part of the problem appears to be that most of the safety protocols center around technology and equipment, while the human factor is overlooked.
Smallpox Found in Unapproved Lab
More recently, an even more disconcerting event took place that really raises questions about what pathogens we have, and exactly where they’re being kept.
It’s nice to think that all the vials of deadly microorganisms are all accounted for and safely locked away in high security labs, but we keep learning that reality does not conform to such cozy notions.
On July 8, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that vials containing the smallpox virus had been discovered in a Maryland lab—a lab that was neither approved nor equipped to handle live pathogens. As reported by Gizmodo8
“Only two labs in the entire world are legally permitted to handle the stuff: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Atlanta headquarters and the VECTOR Institute in Russia. In other words, not the NIH’s Bethesda, Maryland campus.
While it’s currently unclear how long these deadly smallpox vials (which violate at 35-year-old international agreement) have been hiding out,according to CDC spokesman Tom Skinner, the boxes holding them may date back to the 1950s.”
Maximum Level Safety Appears Increasingly Difficult to Maintain
During an October 2007 congressional hearing, Keith Rhodes, the chief technologist at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that we’re at greater risk of an infectious disease epidemic today than ever before, because of increases in the number of biolabs around the world, combined with a lack of oversight.
A 2008 Scientific American article9 also quotes Rutgers University microbiologist Richard Ebright as saying there’s been a “20- to 30-fold increase in the number of institutions and individuals with access to live, virulent bioweapons agents” after the 2001 incident where letters containing anthrax killed five Americans.
At that point, in 2008, an estimated 15,000 people at 400 institutions had access to live, lethal agents! In response to the latest anthrax exposure, Ebright stated10that: “The lapse is not an isolated incident, but instead is part of a continuing pattern of biosafety and biosecurity problems at the CDC.” As noted in the featured article,11 intentional and/or unintentional releases of deadly agents from high security laboratories have proven far more deadly, not to mention far morefrequent, than any organized terrorist attack using bioweapons…
History Shows Biolabs Pose Great Risks to Public Safety
The following is a listing of a few of these deadly biolab mistakes that have occurred over the years. Even more accidental releases are listed on Kenneth Ring’s website Germs Gone Wild.12 A 2008 article in The Observer13 also raises questions about the logic of the locations of some of these labs. For example, a high containment biolab in Galveston, Texas is located in a hurricane flood zone, making the risk of accidental release a more or less annual concern!
In 1971, a former Soviet biological weapons testing facility released a deadly strain of hemorrhagic smallpox—allegedly during an open-air test. Hundreds were quarantined, 50,000 people were vaccinated, and three people died.14 In 1978, a University of Birmingham laboratory inadvertently released the smallpox virus, which ended up killing a British medical photographer.15 In 1979 there was an “accidental atmospheric release” of anthrax in Sverdlovsk, Russia,16 which killed 64 of the 94 infected individuals.17 During the mid-1980s, Bayer sold millions of dollars worth of an injectable blood-clotting medicine to Asian, Latin American, and some European countries, knowing it was tainted with the AIDS virus. This is yet another example of how deadly pathogens can make their way out of the lab, and into the human population. . In 2001, US Army biodefense scientist Bruce Ivins allegedly mailed letters containing a live research strain of anthrax from the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Shortly thereafter, he committed suicide. Five people died from the exposure. It was the Army’s most virulent (Ames) strain. In 2004, a lab in Maryland accidentally sent live anthrax to a California children’s hospital. The CDC investigated the incident and created recommendations designed to make sure something like this would never happen again, yet the near-identical chain of mistakes and protocol failures just occurred at their own facility.18 In 2009, Baxter accidentally sent vaccines contaminated with live and deadly avian (bird) flu to a research facility in Europe. The mistake originated in a Baxter plant operating under Bio Safety Level 3 (BSL3) status — meaning that high-level precautions are supposed to be in place to make sure an accident like this never happens. The company blamed the incident on human error, again demonstrating that, apparently, it takes just one absent-minded dingbat to circumvent the highest level biosafety system currently in existence. In 2012, it was discovered that the bioterror germ lab at the CDC in Atlanta (the same building where the latest anthrax safety breach occurred) has had repeated problems with airflow systems designed to help prevent the release of infectious agents such as anthrax, dangerous strains of influenza, the SARS coronavirus, and monkeypox.
Air from a research lab in one of the Biosafety Level 3 buildings was being vented into a so-called “clean” area, where visitors are not required to wear protective gear. While no one was infected, the problems were major violations of laboratory operating standards.19, 20
Also in 2012, a vaccine researcher at the Northern California Institute for Research died shortly after being infected with the Neisseria meningitides bacteria at work. He was working on a vaccine against the pathogen, and according to the site chief was following required precautions for working with the deadly pathogens.21
Multiple Protocol Breaches Found at US Federal Bioterror Labs
According to a recent report by Reuters,22 the latest anthrax release was the result of multiple protocol breaches. First of all, the anthrax researchers waited only half the time required to ensure the pathogen had been inactivated before sending it out. Protocols call for samples to be incubated for 48 hours to be sure anthrax spores are entirely inactivated, but the batch was checked after only 24 hours of incubation.
Moreover, the exact same mistake occurred in the 2004 anthrax release, when live pathogen was sent to a California children’s hospital. At the time, the CDC recommended that labs wait several days to confirm that the pathogen is in fact dead, before shipping it out to lower-security facilities. It also recommended that the receiving lab should treat samples as live until confirmed dead. When asked why the CDC didn’t follow its own recommendations, thereby allowing for a second, virtually identical anthrax release, CDC biosafety officer, Dr Paul Meechan, said it was “a great question,” to which he doesn’t have a good answer…
Another safety breach relates to the way the pathogen was inactivated. The researchers used a newer method involving chemicals rather than radiation. This method, it turns out, may not have been properly tested and validated as an effective method of inactivation.
Two investigations are currently underway to determine exactly what happened, and how to tighten safety protocols at labs working with highly infectious and lethal pathogens. The CDC is conducting its own internal investigation, and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is also looking into the breach. A 2012 USDA audit23 had already raised red flags. Even earlier reports have been equally critical. As reported by Reuters:24
“The Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, CDC’s parent agency, in reports released in 2008 and 2010, documented a long list of issues. CDC labs working with the most dangerous agents did not always ensure the physical security of the pathogens or restrict access to them, and did not always ensure that personnel received required training.”
Changes Are Sorely Needed
These biosafety problems, and their inherently devastating risks to public health, have been noted worldwide. At present, 24 European countries have embraced a new set of biorisk management standards, which are also backed by the World Health Organization (WHO). These biorisk management standards will likely be adopted by the International Organization for Standardization, which could lessen the risks associated with these research facilities. But can management standards ever completely eradicate the risks posed by research into biological weapons?
As I mentioned at the outset, each year we’re warned of potential new pandemics—mutated viruses and bacteria that might kill off large portions of the population. Vaccines are the standard answer, and many of the most deadly pathogens in biolabs around the world are kept for vaccine development.
The conundrum here is that vaccine development itself is a potential source of a deadly outbreak. The industry would like you to believe that drugs and vaccines are created under pristine conditions and that nothing can go wrong. But they certainly do go wrong from time to time, and sometimes companies don’t even bother to correct their mistakes, for fear it might eat up their profits! Crazy as it may sound, Bayer’s selling of AIDS tainted blood-clotting medicine is just one of several examples of potentially lethal contaminations.
In general, I believe we need to consider the financial motives behind the promotion of pandemics and the vaccines that go along with them. From a personal perspective, it’s vital for you to carefully research ALL sides of any vaccine issue and not merely trust federal public health authorities, most physicians, and the media, as they are largely influenced by massive conflicts of interest and collusion. Seek independent and objective views like those at NVIC25 before you make any important decisions about deciding to vaccinate.
That said, the latest anthrax exposure clearly suggests that blindly accepting safety assurances is a foolhardy proposition. “Trustand verify” would be a far better approach. In the case of bioterror lab safety, the question is who is actually doing the verifying?