May 17, 2020
As novel coronavirus is sweeping the world, people are beginning to realize the great destructive potential of tiny microbes to human health and society.
The pandemic also evoked memories of the previous incidents surrounding biological experiments.
This is why recently, a U.S. military laboratory in Maryland has become the center of a heated discussion.
Created by the U.S. government during the Second World War, Fort Detrick was initially a secret research facility for germ warfare.
Bacteria studied at Fort Detrick included anthrax, a deadly and highly infectious agent that has been used in terrorist attacks. During the war, the U.S. government ordered one million anthrax bombs from the base.
Today, the base houses high-end research facilities including the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (also known as USAMRIID), which leads the U.S. government’s research on some of the most dangerous pathogens known to mankind, like Ebola.
In July 2019, however, research at Fort Detrick came to a halt after health authority shut down its laboratories due to safety concerns.
A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) later confirmed that all research on select agents and toxins in biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories was suspended.
Inside the labs, the CDC found at least six violations of federal guidelines, including critical containment procedures.
Moreover, the inventory of the select agents in the lab was inaccurate.
There were also leaks caused by a dysfunctional wastewater decontamination system, though the CDC claimed that the leaks were limited within the labs.
The most suspicious part of the CDC inspection report was its large redactions, leaving the agents involved in two breaches unidentified.
The CDC cited “national security reasons” for not releasing further details.
Carol Krimm of Maryland’s House of Delegates is among those who have questioned the lack of transparency over the health and safety risks posed by the military base.
“I know that they’re doing their best over there to ensure safety,” she said.
“But something went wrong here, and I still don’t know what went wrong. But something did because CDC closed the labs,” she further stressed.
“I think there needs to be more transparency.”
Over the years, Fort Detrick has been involved in several controversies.
The most famous incident is the 2001 Anthrax Attack.
In September 2001, mails containing anthrax were sent to U.S. government and media offices.
The incident caused five deaths.
The two main suspects were both former researchers at Fort Detrick.
These incidents certainly deserve to be examined more and should raise concerns over the safety of U.S. biological research.