Army chief: Human error likely not cause of anthrax mistake

WASHINGTON — Human error probably was not a factor in the Army’s mistaken shipment of live anthrax samples to numerous U.S. government and commercial laboratories in the U.S. and in South Korea, the Army’s top general said Thursday.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told reporters the problem may have been a failure in the technical process of killing, or inactivating, anthrax samples. The process in this case “might not have completely killed” the samples as intended before they were shipped, he said.

Odierno said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating that aspect of what went wrong at Dugway Proving Ground, the Army installation in Utah that sent the anthrax to government and commercial labs in nine states across the U.S. and to an Army lab in South Korea.

The general said he was not aware that such a problem had surfaced previously at Dugway.

“The best I can tell, it was not human error,” he said, adding that normal procedures had been followed.

The Pentagon disclosed on Wednesday that at least one of nine labs in the U.S. that received anthrax from Dugway got live rather than dead bacteria. It has not identified any of the U.S. laboratories by name but said they are in nine states: Texas, Maryland, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, Tennessee, New York, California and Virginia.

U.S. officials at Osan Air Base in South Korea said in a statement that the anthrax bacteria it received for training purposes “might not be an inert training sample as expected,” and as a result, the suspect anthrax was destroyed by hazardous materials teams Wednesday. They said 22 people at Osan “may have been exposed” to the live anthrax and were given precautionary medical measures, including examinations, antibiotics and vaccinations.

“None of the personnel have shown any signs of possible exposure,” the air base said in a written statement.