Anthrax suspect was barred from labs after spill

By: AP
By: AP

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) -- Anthrax mailing suspect Bruce E. Ivins' access to Army biodefense laboratories was revoked in March after he spilled anthrax on his pants and went home to wash them instead of immediately reporting the accident, according to an Army report.

The accident occurred March 17 at Fort Detrick while the microbiologist, who died of an apparent suicide July 29, was working with the relatively mild strain of anthrax used for vaccinating livestock.

His access to the laboratories that handle the deadly Ames strain used in the 2001 attacks had been revoked Nov. 1, the same day the FBI raided Ivins' home in Frederick, just outside Fort Detrick's main gate.

When asked why Ivins' access was restricted in November, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said supervisors can restrict access for workers who show signs of stress that could endanger themselves or their co-workers. But she declined to discuss details about that decision on Ivins, citing medical privacy issues.

The release of the Army document, first reported Wednesday by The Frederick News-Post, comes amid criticism and questions by Ivins' colleagues and some members of Congress about the FBI investigation that concluded he alone was responsible for the attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others.

Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., has drafted a bill that would create a national commission to investigate the FBI's probe of the anthrax attacks and make recommendations for preventing bioterrorism.

Ivins reported the March accident to his supervisors at USAMRIID 1 hour and 20 minutes after it occurred. In an internal investigator's report, dated March 18, Ivins wrote, "I was cleaning the biosafety cabinet and a few drops of dilute Sterne spores got on my pants."

The investigator wrote that a centrifuge bottle containing the solution had tipped over, spilling about 5 milliliters on Ivins's trousers. Ivins cleaned the surface of the cabinet and floor, and then walked home, washed his pants with bleach in his washing machine and dried them in the dryer before returning to USAMRIID to report the incident.

"Although the sample was a vaccine strain of B. anthracis, it is our opinion that Dr. Ivins should have reported this spill, although minor, immediately to the suite supervisor and his supervisor," the investigator wrote. The investigator's name was redacted in the publicly released version of the document.

Ivins apparently tried to blame the accident on a colleague. In a section of the document reserved for lessons learned, he wrote, "Don't clean up technicians' messes in BSC." BSC stands for biosafety containment.

Because of the incident, "Dr. Ivins will be assigned to administrative duties immediately and for the indefinite future. His badge has been deactivated for laboratory areas of USAMRIID," the investigator wrote.


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