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Army launches biological agent safety investigation

The secretary of the Army has ordered a sweeping safety review at military laboratories that handle biological warfare agents and toxins after the discovery of anthrax contamination at a facility in Utah and record-keeping errors at two labs in Maryland.

The Centers for Disease Control uncovered "incorrect or incomplete record keeping" at labs at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Detrick in Frederick that conduct biological warfare research, the Defense Department said in a statement.

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The Pentagon has been investigating problems at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and other military labs since May, when a private lab in Maryland discovered it had received live anthrax from the military. In July, officials ordered a ban on further shipments.

Military researchers use samples of anthrax and other biological agents to test detection equipment and other defense technologies. The live samples are supposed to be killed before being used and are subject to strict regulations.

Lt. Col. Jesse Stalder, an Army spokesman, said the CDC conducted a spot check at the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center on Aug. 17 and expressed concern about whether research materials were properly stored and labeled. The Army is now trying to determine if rules were broken, Stalder said.

"No employees have shown signs of infection and there is no risk to the general public," he said.

But after the new problems came to light, Army Secretary John H. McHugh on Wednesday suspended the use of a range of other dangerous substances and gave military labs 10 days to report results of their safety probes.

"The safety review ensures labs will follow appropriate protocols for handling materials, including proper training, record-keeping, and standard operating procedures," the Pentagon said in a statement.

The problems at Dugway dated back over a decade, Defense Department officials have said. They said flawed irradiation procedures failed to kill live anthrax, which was shipped to labs across the country and around the world.

The number of labs known to have received live spores has continued to rise. Defense officials have said all 50 states received live shipments.

No one was sickened by the anthrax. Lab workers who might have had contact with anthrax received treatment as a precaution.

The Pentagon is continuing to assess the problems with how anthrax was handled. Spokesman Peter Cook said Thursday that more findings are expected to be released in October.

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