Investigation faults U.S. Army lab’s leaders over mistaken anthrax shipments

WASHINGTON Officials at a U.S. Army biodefense lab in Utah had multiple warning signs of safety issues but failed to take steps that could have averted the mistaken shipment of live anthrax to other labs, according to a military investigation report released on Friday.

While no single event or individual directly caused the shipment, a number of people, including leaders at Dugway Proving Ground, should be held accountable, the report said.

“A combination of events including gaps in science, institutional issues, and personal accountability, when taken together each contributed to this event,” Major General Paul Ostrowski told reporters.

The lab at Dugway Proving Ground, an Army facility southwest of Salt Lake City, is responsible for neutralizing anthrax spores that are sent to other laboratories for medical research and investigation.

For more than a decade, the lab used a technique that failed to fully neutralize the spores on many occasions, resulting in live spores of the deadly bacteria being sent to 192 labs in the United States and abroad, Defense Department officials reported last year.

The report concluded that senior leadership at the lab downplayed previous incidents and showed complacency.

“The leadership at (Dugway) did not comprehensively investigate these mishaps, address incidents as training/educational opportunities, or take disciplinary action against personnel,” the report said.

Lieutenant General Thomas Spoehr, director of the Army’s office of business transformation, said a review panel, with scientists from within and outside the Defense Department, would be created to look at procedures for working with biological weapons.

Spoehr added that Dugway’s “mission of producing biological agents for export” had also been eliminated.


Officials failed to take effective action to correct the problems even after serious incidents at the labs between 2007 and 2011, according to the report.

The review said five leaders, including two former commanders of the lab, failed to take appropriate actions.

The report named only Brigadier General William E. King IV, who was in command at Dugway as a colonel from 2009 to 2011.

King is now commanding general at the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive Command at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

“Colonel King responded to each incident by correcting deficiencies identified by outside organizations, but he failed to conduct internal reviews to improve the operations of (Dugway) and prevent future incidents,” the report said.

King could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum, Bernard Orr)

comments powered by Disqus