According to documents obtained by The Frederick News-Post under the Freedom of Information Act, more than 200 mishaps were reported at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick during 2010 and 2011. The number is nearly double the amount of reported incidents for the prior two years.
Incidents include everything from common workplace injuries such as a muscle strain from moving equipment across the spectrum to incidents of actual biological exposures. There were about 16 possible biological exposures in 2010 and 20 possible exposures in 2011, including those counted as either a “near miss” or “negligible,” according to The Frederic News-Post’s review of the reports.
Those exposures included such carcinogens as formaldehyde and viruses including anthrax and Francisella tularensis, the bacterium that causes tularemia. One researcher was accidentally exposed to Western equine encephalitis when the live virus was transferred from one lab to another. Additionally, there appeared to have been a total of six animal bites and five scratches. In at least seven cases, an employee reported having been stuck or scratched by a needle. The total also included a small number of reports from the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC), which operated some labs at USAMRIID until late 2011.
None of USAMRIID’s employees who were exposed to a substance got sick, said Lt. Col. Neal Woollen, safety, security, and biosurety head for USAMRIID. He further explained that the increased number of reports is partially the result of a July 2011 institutional change in safety incident reporting requirements to “better assess the performance of our personal protective equipment” by giving officials the opportunity to better track trends.
The report also includes non-biological related incidents occurring outside of Ft. Detrick such as minor car accidents. “The soldiers have to report everything,” USAMRIID spokeswoman Caree Vander-Linden said. “They have to, even if it’s not work-related.”