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Unlogged Pathogen Samples Found at Fort Detrick

A 4-month effort to inventory the contents of freezers and refrigerators at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland, has turned up 9,220 vials of dangerous pathogens and toxins that were not listed in USAMRIID’s database.

USAMRIID officials announced at a press conference today that the institute has resumed all of its research activities, which were suspended in early February to enable a complete accounting of select agents at the premier biodefense lab. The institute has been under intense public scrutiny since last summer when the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s implicated former USAMRIID researcher Bruce Ivins in the 2001 anthrax letter attacks.

The labs at USAMRIID house more than 70,000 vials of select agents and toxins, including samples of Ebola, anthrax, and other deadly germs. Officials decided to conduct a full inventory of the materials after researchers found four vials of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis in a freezer that had never been entered into the institute’s electronic database, created in 2005. They turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. The inventory showed that 13% of the vials at the institute were not in the database, which officials had been using to keep track of materials.

Most of the unlisted vials were materials left behind by researchers who had left the institute before 2005, Col. Mark Kortepeter, USAMRIID’s deputy commander, told reporters at today’s press conference. “The vast majority of these were working stocks that had accumulated over several decades,” he said, explaining that the initial inventory for the electronic database 4 years ago had focused on vials that were in active use. Kortepeter said it was very “unlikely” that any unlisted vials had been lost or stolen.

About half of the 9220 vials were destroyed after scientists determined that the materials in them were of limited scientific value, Kortepeter said. The rest were added to the database. The institute plans to conduct a 100% inventory every year from now on, he said.