The Department of Defense admitted this week it had mistakenly shipped live anthrax spores to all 50 states and nine countries, many more than it had previously admitted.
Although the spores that were shipped are not an imminent threat to public health, as anthrax is not spread person-to-person, how this kind of serious error could have been made still raises alarm and weakens confidence in the DOD.
In July, the Pentagon released a report that revealed that a number of labs had mistakenly been sent shipments of live anthrax spores. Since then, the number of labs that received the anthrax has more than doubled.
According to the most recent data from the DOD, the shipments were inadvertently sent to 194 labs, including government, university and corporate labs, in nine foreign countries, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and three U.S. territories — Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The foreign countries were: Japan, United Kingdom, Korea, Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Norway and Switzerland.
Department officials have said they are unsure as to whether the countries to which the anthrax was sent represents the full scope of the deliveries, as well as whether those countries knew about the deliveries.
On its website, the Department of Defense states it does regularly "ship inactivated samples of anthrax spores to outside labs for research and development of DoD countermeasures to protest U.S. troops, allies, partners, and the American public from biological attack."
The DOD also states it has no reports of deaths or serious illnesses during the military's 10-year program shipping anthrax to private and military labs.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work has called the inadvertent shipments a "massive institutional failure with a potentially dangerous biotoxin," and added that he expects the numbers to rise as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigates possible secondary shipments from the primary labs that received the anthrax.
Apparently, when the anthrax was shipped, the spores were thought to have been deactivated. The Pentagon has not yet found a "root cause" for the fiasco, yet the major mistake clearly indicates that both the process to deactivate anthrax spores and the tests to confirm that the spores were deactivated need to be far more rigorous.