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.