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December 17,  2001

Anthrax matches Army spores


 

 (SafetyAlerts) - WFor nearly a decade, US Army scientists at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah have made small quantities of weapons-grade anthrax that is virtually identical to the powdery spores used in the mail attacks that have killed 5 people, government sources say. Until the anthrax attacks led to tighter security measures, anthrax grown at Dugway was regularly sent by Federal Express to the Army's biodefense center, at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases[USAMRIID] at Fort Detrick, in Frederick [MD], where the bacteria were killed using gamma radiation before being returned to Dugway for experiments. The anthrax was shipped in the form of a coarse paste, not in the far more dangerous finely milled form, according to one government official.

Most anthrax testing at Dugway, in a barren Utah desert 87 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, is done using the killed spores to reduce the chance of accidental exposure of workers there. But some experiments require live anthrax, milled to the tiny particle size expected on a battlefield, to test both decontamination techniques and biological agent detection systems, the sources say.

Anthrax is also grown at Fort Detrick, where it is used chiefly to test the effectiveness of vaccines in animals. But that medical program uses a wet aerosol fog of anthrax rather than the dry powder used in the attacks and at Dugway, according to interviews and medical journal articles based on the research. The wet anthrax, while still capable of killing people, is safer for laboratory workers to handle, scientists say.

[Byline: Scott Shane]

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[2]
Date: 13 Dec 2001
From: ProMED-mail <promed@promedmail.org>
Source: Baltimore Sun [originally published 13 Dec 2001: edited] <http://www.sunspot.net/news/health/bal-te.anthrax13dec13.story>


Army confirms making anthrax in recent years
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The US Army's Dugway Proving Ground confirmed last night that it has produced dry anthrax powder in recent years but said the anthrax has been "well-protected" and is all accounted for. The statement is the first admission that any US government program has produced the lethal dry powder since the offensive biological weapons program was closed in 1969.

The term "weapons-grade" means that the anthrax particles are tiny enough -- 1 to 5 microns -- to be readily inhaled and deposited in the lungs. A sufficient dose produces inhalation anthrax, which is blamed for killing 5 people since October [2001]. Some of the anthrax produced by Dugway has matched the fine particle size and extraordinary concentration of the powder mailed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, estimated at close to 1 [US] trillion spores per gram [= 1 UK billion], according to a government scientist. In addition, the mailed anthrax is genetically indistinguishable from the Ames strain used by the Army, the most sophisticated test methods show. Neither the physical nor the genetic match proves that the terrorist used anthrax from Dugway. The FBI appears to be taking seriously the possibility of a link to Dugway. Personnel working with anthrax, all of whom have been vaccinated against the bacterium, have been questioned at length by investigators.

A government official familiar with the Dugway program said about a half-dozen scientists there have the expertise to make dry anthrax. No one with such expertise has left the program in recent years, the official said. The unsigned, 2-page Dugway statement e-mailed to reporters last night says scientists there "routinely" make anthrax to test decontamination methods and equipment designed to detect biological agents. It confirms The Sun's report that most experiments use simulants or anthrax spores inactivated by radiation, but certain tests "must be performed with live agents."

"All anthrax used at Dugway has been accounted for," the statement says. "There is a rigorous tracking and inventory program to follow the production, receipt and destruction of all select agents. The facility is well-protected with robust physical and personnel security systems." The statement says the Army is cooperating with the FBI and "will not comment further on any aspect of its bio testing program" until the investigation concludes.

For bacteria such as anthrax, the facility is limited to growing 100 milliliters, or 3 fluid ounces, at a time. The maximum concentration of spores would be 10 [US] billion per milliliter [= 10 000 million], according to the Environmental Impact Statement.

[Byline: Scott Shane]

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[3]
Date: 14 Dec 2001
From: ProMED-mail promed@promedmail.org
Source: Washington Post
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28471-2001Dec11.html>


This article covers a report at the recent Decatur expert meeting by Dr Bill Kournikakis of the Canadian [military] laboratory, Suffield, on their experiments on monitoring what happens when an envelope containing spores is opened. Using slit samplers they amply demonstrated that 0.1 gm of spores was sufficient to expose someone to a lethal dose or 22 to 480 LD50s; it was even higher when the envelope contained 1 gm at 140 to 3080 LD50s. It is estimated that the Daschle letter contained some 2 gm of spores.

It is very fortunate that the Daschle staff were immediately put on antibiotics. But past experience would indicate that such high exposures could overwhelm any antibiotic, so now there are questions as to what is a lethal dose and how this is modified by an individual's health. It is clear that the deceased Connecticut woman was exposed to a minimal lethal dose. On the assumption that the Leahy letter contained an equivalent amount to the Daschle letter (2gm), it would seem that the perpetrator used some 7- 10+ gm of spores [1 gm is roughly the weight of 1 US 10 cent piece or dime] to spike his letters to Florida (2), New York (3) & Washington (2). - Mod.MHJ.

Source: ProMed.

 
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