Van Hollen Seeks Answers From Army After Ft. Detrick Lab Shutdown

    A U.S. senator from Maryland wants more answers about what led to the shutdown of a high-level military laboratory – and what needs to be done to get it back online.

    Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy about the matter on Friday.

    The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick – which handles federal select agents and toxins such as Ebola and anthrax – received a cease and desist order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July.

     

    That was after a June inspection of the lab on the military base, which is surrounded by the city of Frederick.

    According to The Frederick News-Post, work on select agents at the lab was stopped for multiple reasons, “including failure to follow local procedures and a lack of periodic recertification training for workers in the biocontainment laboratories… The wastewater decontamination system also failed to meet standards set by the Federal Select Agent Program,” which suspended the lab’s registration.

    The laboratory had been operating under modified wastewater treatment procedures after a May 2018 flood that took Fort Detrick’s steam sterilization plant offline. After months of suspended work then, the lab began using chemical treatment for contaminated wastewater, The New York Times reported.

    But those new chemical treatment procedures weren’t being followed consistently and inspectors found mechanical problems and leaks within the new decontamination system, though there was no exposure outside the laboratories, the Times reported.

    Van Hollen wrote that the was disappointed to learn about the suspension of the lab’s work in newspaper articles rather than from the Army directly.

    He asked McCarthy for more information about the CDC inspection of the laboratory, potential biological agent and toxin exposures, the Army’s plan to bring the laboratory back into compliance, and any effect from the work stoppage on ongoing research.

    USAMRIID is the Department of Defense’s lead laboratory for medical biological defense research and also conducts research projects for universities and drug companies.

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    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.