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Multiple protocol breaches behind anthrax exposure at U.S. federal labs

The safety breach at a government lab that may have exposed 84 workers to live anthrax centered on a pivotal lapse in procedure: researchers working with the bacteria waited 24 hours to be sure they had killed the pathogens, half the time required by a new scientific protocol.

The lab designed to handle extremely dangerous pathogens at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta unknowingly sent live samples of anthrax to labs with fewer safeguards, where the exposure occurred. No one has died or fallen ill but dozens are being treated with a vaccine and powerful antibiotics to keep them from becoming sick.

The exposure incident is unprecedented in the history of American research on bioweapons and other deadly pathogens, prompting alarm among researchers who have already warned about the consequences of lax laboratory oversight globally. Scientists in and out of the CDC say the process of handling such bacteria and viruses must be improved.

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