Fort Detrick leaders said this week that biosafety level 3 and 4 research — work that deals with microbes and materials that can spread serious or even lethal disease if untreated — should resume at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases by the end of this year.
Col. E. Darrin Cox, who was named USAMRIID's commander in July, said research work will slowly resume at the facility in the next few months. Currently, biosafety level 1 and 2 research has resumed, he added. Those levels deal with less dangerous materials than levels 3 and 4, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
"It’s all going to be condition-based, it’s all going to be based on safety and the readiness to go back in, which will require a CDC inspection, and then a briefing to [Fort Detrick Brig.] Gen. [Michael] Talley and [Future Commands] Gen. [John] Murray and approval through Army channels," Cox said.
All research at USAMRIID was halted earlier this year when the CDC determined the facility failed to meet biosafety standards, The Frederick News-Post previously reported.
Fort Detrick leaders met with the city's Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee (CLCAC) this week to provide an update on USAMRIID. Brig. Gen. Michael Talley said multiple times the facility is undergoing a "culture change" to make sure biosafety level 3 and 4 research isn't suspended in the near future.
Talley and others also provided an update on moving USAMRIID from several buildings on the Army post into Building 7100, including installing a new steam sterilization plant.
That plant flooded in May 2018 and failed, which was used to treat wastewater that then entered an effluent decontamination system, The News-Post previously reported.
The CDC previously approved that latter system to treat for inactivating disease-causing material that could be found in the biosafety level 3 and 4 labs, but sent a cease and desist letter in July after it found several issues with that system and standard operating procedures.
Talley said people who might have been affected by contaminants and biohazardous materials were monitored by officials for 21 days. Dr. Joany Jackman, a CLCAC board member, asked when the public could expect the "all clear" regarding whether or not hazardous materials had spread.
Talley said that those affected typically see symptoms within 10 days, and that if none are seen within 15 days, officials will start to inform local officials of the "all clear." A 21-day period is used as a precaution, Talley added.
Jackman also asked whether multiple closings at the post had caused a drop in the culture Talley described.
"I think it really came down to being held accountable to a standard of performance, and probably not embracing external inspections," Talley responded. "A culture that felt that, listen, having a CDC or [Department of the Army Inspector General] inspection is not my priority."
Cox said he and his staff are touring biosafety level 3 and 4 facilities around the globe to help determine how to construct a new steam sterilization plant at or near Building 8100.
"We’re looking at their entire biosafety program, the approach that they take, we’re looking at how they treat waste and how they do the decontamination of their effluent," Cox said, adding they will also look at personal protective equipment at the facilities.