FREDERICK — Two accidents at the Army’s flagship biodefense laboratory potentially exposed nine workers to harmful biological agents in the last two years, according to occupational hazard reports.
The documents released by the laboratory reported no illness among the workers. The Frederick News-Post (http://bit.ly/1zOkvOR) obtained the records from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick through the Freedom of Information Act.
Workers were given more training in both cases. After the more serious incident, involving bacteria that cause the equine disease glanders, six workers were given antibiotics. The infectious disease can cause fever, chills and pneumonia in humans.
That incident on Sept. 19, 2013, also prompted a procedural review to ensure “that all personnel maintain situational awareness of what is happening in our suites,” said David Harbourt, the lab’s biosafety officer.
The six workers were potentially exposed when a plastic tube containing the bacteria popped open in a vessel of boiling water, according to the report. The bacteria can be spread by aerosol, contaminated food and water, and is among the first agents to have been used as a biological weapon, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
On May 23, 2014, three workers were potentially exposed to a virus derived from Venezuelan equine encephalitis when tubes containing the virus broke inside a centrifuge, according to the reports. The disease can cause flu-like symptoms in humans.
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services considers Venezuelan equine encephalitis a potential biological weapon, especially if it is turned into an aerosol.