No Public Danger from Mailed Anthrax, Officials Say

Samples of anthrax are routinely sent by commercial shipping services from a Defense Department laboratory to dozens of government, academic, and corporate institutions to facilitate research on detection and treatment of the potentially deadly biological agent, a chemical and biological defense expert said Wednesday. Those samples are supposed to be neutralized by gamma radiation and tested to ensure they are dead before mailing, Cmdr. Franca Jones, director of medical programs in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense, told Pentagon reporters. How some possibly live anthrax samples were shipped to at least 51 facilities is being investigated by the military and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To demonstrate why officials believe there was no risk to the public, despite the failure of the deactivation procedures, Jones demonstrated how the samples are prepared for shipment. The one-milliliter samples are sealed in a small hard plastic vial, which is put into a ziplock plastic bag, packed with absorbent material into a coffee can-sized? sealed plastic container, then put into a conventional cardboard shipping box, surrounded by dry ice to keep it frozen, Jones explained. “We believe the risk is zero for people who handle the box,” Jones said. Anthrax samples were shipped that way for 10 years without problems, before now, she added.