State Digest


April 19, 2006

Anthrax escaped at Army lab in '01, '02

The Army's biological weapons defense laboratory at Fort Detrick probably had multiple episodes of anthrax contamination as workers strove to process a flood of samples sent there for testing in 2001 and 2002, an internal report says.

The report contains previously undisclosed details about the sometimes sloppy practices that allowed anthrax spores to escape from biosafety containment labs at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. No one was hurt by the released spores.

Security measures were tightened after the Army acknowledged one of the accidental releases in April 2002. No other breaches of containment - the confirmed presence of agents where they should not be - have since been reported.

The 361-page report, a copy of which was obtained by the Frederick News-Post, was compiled by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, which oversees the research institute.

The report shows that evidence of anthrax spores in supposedly clean areas began appearing months before the April 8, 2002, breach as the institute processed tens of thousands of items and environmental samples, including the anthrax-laced letters mailed to Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont in the fall of 2001.

In December 2001, an institute technician told Dr. Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist, that she might have been exposed to anthrax spores when handling an anthrax-laced letter, the report says. It said Ivins tested the technician's desk area and found growth that had the earmarks of anthrax. He decontaminated her desk, computer, keypad and monitor but did not notify his superiors.

Ivins later told Army investigators he did the unauthorized testing because he was concerned that the powdered anthrax in the letters might not be adequately contained.

He said he again became suspicious of contamination April 8, 2002, when two researchers reported potential exposures after noticing that flasks they were working with had leaked anthrax, causing crusting on the outside of the glass. Ivins reported the concerns to institute officials, who then found spores on nasal swabs from one scientist involved in the incident. The scientist had been vaccinated and did not contract the disease.

Associated Press

Maryland: U.S. Senate race

Black business leader endorses Cardin for Senate

The president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors' Association endorsed Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin's bid for the U.S. Senate yesterday, saying "too much is at stake" for him not to support the Baltimore congressman.

Wayne R. Frazier Sr., who in 2002 supported Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - and his running mate, Michael S. Steele, now the main Republican Senate candidate - said at a meeting of minority business owners organized by Cardin's campaign that he was supporting Cardin. Frazier, who is African-American, said he thought hard about his decision and worried that he would be called "a sellout" for choosing Cardin over one of his Democratic rivals, former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Frazier said he did not think that Mfume could win. "As a businessman, I want to put my support, my dollars, toward a winner," he said.

Gwyneth K. Shaw

Prince George's: Crime

Police in capital area investigating rash of robberies

Fast-acting thieves with powerful weapons have police in Washington and Prince George's County sharing notes in a rash of quick-hitting robberies and carjackings that they believe are connected.

The series of at least nine robberies and four carjackings started Sunday night in northwest Washington when two suspects in a black Jeep Liberty robbed a victim, armed with what appeared to be machine guns, Washington police said.

It resumed in Prince George's County about 1 p.m. Monday when three robberies were reported within minutes. About a half-hour later in Washington, several attackers, again in a black SUV, pistol-whipped a victim, police said. Over the next hour, gunmen committed six more robberies and carjackings in Washington.

Police said they believe they are dealing with at least four assailants, who pulled off robbery after robbery in the middle of the day on busy streets and stole at least four cars.

Associated Press

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