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Accident Reports Double at Army Biodefense Site

The U.S. Army's flagship biodefense research facility noted in excess of 200 accidents in 2010 and 2011, nearly double the number it recorded for the prior two years, the Fredrick News-Post reported on Sunday (see GSN, March 7).

An alteration last July to record-keeping standards produced the higher quantity of documented errors, according to an e-mail message from Lt. Gen. Neal Woollen, safety, security and biosurety head for the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. The revision was aimed at enabling closer monitoring of developments in order to "better assess the performance of our personal protective equipment," the official wrote.

The accidents included 20 incidents last year in which personnel might have come into contact with pathogens or dangerous chemicals. Roughly 16 such cases took place in 2010, according to information released through the Freedom of Information Act.

The list of potential exposures encompassed incidents involving anthrax, Western equine encephalitis and the agent responsible for tularemia. None of the accidents resulted in illness, according to Woollen.

In one instance, a worker was deemed to be at "minimal risk of disease" after a container of Ames anthrax bacteria fell to the ground. There was no indication in a document on the event of whether any material actually escaped the container. The laboratory would weigh possibly using shatter-proof containers due to the release, according to the record (Courtney Mabeus, Fredrick News-Post, March 11).

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