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Anthrax Mailings Recovery Required $320M, Analysis Finds

The 2001 anthrax mailings resulted in $320 million in expenditures aimed at ensuring government and private facilities were free of the deadly bacteria, according to an analysis published on Tuesday (see GSN, Nov. 30, 2011).

The anthrax-tainted letters addressed to congressional offices and media organizations killed five people and sickened 17, according to a previous report. A years-long federal investigation identified microbiologist Bruce Ivins, who worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. as the attacker. Ivins killed himself in July 2008 before facing any charges, and the FBI formally closed the case in early 2010.

After reviewing U.S. Government Accountability Office information and other material, experts at Concordia University in Montreal determined the mailings resulted in follow-up detection efforts in 26 structures and cleansing operations in seven, including two mail service centers that required an expensive decontamination treatment, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reported. In addition, six business facilities required cleaning after the mailings.

Unnecessary expenditures probably resulted from the absence of a specific oversight entity, the analysts said (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy release, Feb. 8).

Meanwhile, a Defense Department-financed report made public on Monday suggests a body's genetic constitution plays a role in individual vulnerability to anthrax toxin, Scientific American reported.

The research “could lead to the development of novel treatment strategies, perhaps by blocking the interaction between the toxin and the receptor or by down-regulating its expression,” said David Relman, who heads the Forum on Microbial Threats at the Institute of Medicine.

“The findings could also provide a possible means for predicting who is likely to become seriously ill after exposure, which could be extremely useful when faced with a large number of exposed people,” said the expert, who was not involved in the study (Katherine Harmon, Scientific American, Feb. 6).

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