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Biodefense Lab Leader Resigns After Anthrax Mishap

A hazardous-materials worker responds to a report of a powdery substance found in Florida during the 2001 anthrax scare. The former leader of a federal bioterrorism laboratory that mishandled anthrax bacteria has resigned his position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. A hazardous-materials worker responds to a report of a powdery substance found in Florida during the 2001 anthrax scare. The former leader of a federal bioterrorism laboratory that mishandled anthrax bacteria has resigned his position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The head of a U.S. biodefense laboratory gave up his post after a blunder at the site sparked fears that anthrax had escaped, the New York Times reports.

Michael Farrell oversaw the Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Advanced Technology Laboratory from 2009 until last month, when he was transferred to another position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the Times reported on Wednesday. His removal took place following the discovery that his facility had botched the sterilization process for anthrax transferred out of the lab, initially prompting fears that dozens of personnel may have been exposed to the deadly bacteria.

Farrell "voluntarily resigned" on Tuesday, said Thomas Skinner, a spokesman for the U.S. agency.

Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Minnesota, said Farrell's departure "shows that the CDC is making a good-faith effort to identify where lapses occurred and address them."

Last week, though, another biosafety expert took a differing stance on moves against Farrell, USA Today reported on Wednesday.

"He's a scapegoat and everybody knows that," said Sean Kaufman, an Emory University biological safety specialist.

"[Farrell] had just as much to do with this incident as the people all the way at the top," Kaufman told a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Meanwhile, a key biodefense laboratory in Maryland said it had planned no reforms to its own protective measures in response to the anthrax misstep, the Frederick News-Post reported on Thursday.

The recent discovery of smallpox at a nearby government facility would also not affect plans at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, said Shawn Boesen, head of the laboratory's Safety, Radiation and Environmental Division.

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