More than 50 laboratories in the US and three foreign countries were sent suspected live anthrax over the past decade, the US military has admitted. The number is much more than previously disclosed, and could rise.
The Pentagon said on Wednesday that it had sent samples of live anthrax to at least 51 laboratories in 17 US states, as well as Australia, Canada and South Korea.
The incidents date back to 2005.
"We know of no risk to the general public," said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, adding the anthrax was shipped in low concentrations and in secure packaging.
But he said that the number of accidental deliveries was likely to rise as an investigation uncovers more details. Work said at least four batches of anthrax that officials believed to be "dead" have turned out to be active. More than 400 batches are being tested.
A number of US military facilities shipped the samples to outside laboratories to create counter-measures to biological weapons. But the anthrax apparently remained alive, for reasons yet to be explained.
And to compound the error, follow-up lab tests that were supposed to verify the "dead" status before shipment also failed.
Anthrax is an acute bacterial disease. It is not contagious but can be transmitted through contact or consumption of infected meat. Airborne anthrax is potentially deadly if inhaled. In 2001, five people died after inhaling anthrax sent through the US mail to government and media targets.
jr/bk (Reuters, AP, AFP)