USAMRIID

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.

A report from Frederick’s Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee found that the summer shutdown of high-level research at a Fort Detrick laboratory has “likely little risk” to the community.

The Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee (CLCAC) advises and makes recommendations to the city and the mayor on containment laboratories, such as the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention halted research in USAMRIID’s biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories due to biosafety lapses, including concerns about chemical sterilization of laboratory wastewater after the steam sterilization plant at Fort Detrick was stopped in 2018.

In the report, the CLCAC concluded that there is likely little risk to the community from the lapses in biosafety practices and wastewater decontamination that led the CDC to halt research.

The chemical decontamination used by USAMRIID to handle wastewater “was probably sufficient to ensure that there was little risk of illness among Frederick residents or Fort Detrick staff,” according to the report.

However, the CLCAC cannot independently conclude that there is no risk from environmental contamination of the grounds around the fort’s steam sterilization plant. The steam sterilization plant was stopped after it flooded during the May 2018 flooding.

Following the stop, Fort Detrick and USAMRIID officials briefed local and congressional leaders, USAMRIID spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said in a statement.

“Environmental sampling of the area was conducted and no infectious agent was detected outside of containment areas. There is no risk to employee health, public health, or the environment,” Vander Linden said in the email.

The CLCAC requested that environmentally sampling data so they could verify there was no risk, but the data had not been shared with the committee, even though the garrison commander, Col. Dexter Nunnally, told CLCAC members they would receive the data and repeated follow-ups, according to the report.

Nunnally sent a letter to the committee in November that summarized the environmental testing results, Vander Linden said.

Mayor Michael O’Connor said that the CLCAC played an important role in helping ensure communication between the city and USAMRIID.

“I appreciate the work that group does,” he said.

O’Connor also said he hopes that the CLCAC receives the requested environmental data.

According to the report to the mayor, Army leaders addressed the CLCAC last October to discuss the shutdown. At the meeting, the leadership assured the committee that Army organizations were “recommitted to improving their biosafety training and adhering to safe laboratory procedures.”

The CLCAC organized the meeting with USAMRIID and Fort Detrick after hearing frustrations about the lack of information, CLCAC Chair Matt Sharkey said in an email. The committee is tasked with helping to foster communication between labs such as USAMRIID and the public, as well as seek further information about public concerns, he said.

“The report we have submitted to our local government is intended to inform and advise our leaders about the incidents leading to the shutdown, safety concerns associated with the CDC findings, and steps that have been taken to ensure public safety as the laboratories resume their normal operations,” Sharkey said in the email.

With the report, the CLCAC hopes that the local leaders, including the mayor, have a better idea about risks associated with research and the safety measures taken by high containment laboratories, including USAMRIID.

“We also hope that our leaders will appreciate that community safely requires that they are informed about what risks are present and what measures are being taken to mitigate them,” Sharkey said in the email.

Follow Heather Mongilio on Twitter:

@HMongilio.

Heather Mongilio is the health and Fort Detrick reporter for the Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at hmongilio@newspost.com.

(3) comments

barrykissin

This article and the CLCAC are pathetic. The headline should have been: Detrick Persists in Withholding Environmental Sampling Data. See this article's paragraph buried on the back page: "The CLCAC requested that environmentally (sic) sampling data so they could verify there was no risk, but the data had not been shared with the committee, even though the garrison commander, Col. Dexter Nunnally, told CLCAC members they would receive the data and repeated follow-ups, according to the report." There are two possible reasons for withholding the data. Either this is a cover-up of a contamination problem or the Army is demonstrating its contempt for the obligation to inform the public. In my letter to editor published on Dec. 4, 2019 titled "Safety at Fort Detrick," I complained about excessive public relations staff at Detrick serving the function of hiding information from the public. The CLCAC's report on what the CDC called a "systematic failure" this past summer reveals that our CLCAC is more concerned about protecting Detrick than about protecting our community. The choice of headline for this article makes it appear that our local newspaper shares the same priority. Ironically, this article appears next to an article about the spread of the coronavirus now afflicting China. The epicenter of the infection is Wuhan, China, the site of China's only BSL-4 laboratory. There are three such laboratories at Detrick.

public-redux

Paragraphs are your friend.

Matt Sharkey

Barry thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about this issue. We will all be better off if members of our community read and think about these issues and make their voices heard.

In my opinion as a citizen of Frederick, the best solution would be for the Environmental Protection Agency to be engaged by our City or County to assess the risk to our community from potential environmental contamination at the steam sterilization facility.

Please consider joining the Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee, whose membership consists of concerned citizens who engage with the laboratories in our community and hold public meetings to increase awareness of the risks to our community from these laboratories and of the measures being taken to ensure public safety. Please also consider attending our quarterly meetings, which are help on the second Tuesday of each month, usually in City Hall at 101 N Court St.

Meetings are announced about one week prior on our website: https://www.cityoffrederickmd.gov/127/Containment-Lab-Community-Advisory-Commi.

You can also watch videos of most of our meetings, and might be especially interested in the video of our October 8, 2019 with leadership from Ft. Detrick and USAMRIID. https://cityoffrederick.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=25

The opinions in this comment are my own only. Messages shared on behalf of the CLCAC, such as those in this article, are vetted by CLCAC members.

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