The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shut down biosafety laboratories at Fort Detrick last month, yet the public didn’t know. And that’s simply unacceptable.

The CDC sent a letter on July 15 shutting down level 3 and 4 labs at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. The CDC found deficiencies with the labs where infectious diseases such as the Ebola virus, plague and Venezuelan equine encephalitis are studied.

Those labs, operated by USAMRIID, failed to follow local procedures, lacked periodic recertification training of employees, and had problems with the wastewater decontamination system.

Yet it took several weeks before details about the shutdown were released to the public and, even then, those details came out only after Detrick representatives were pressed by a Frederick News-Post reporter who had received an anonymous tip about what was going on.

Fort Detrick officials had told the local health department and some Frederick County leaders, who, in fairness to them, expected the Army post to communicate with the public. But the word never filtered out.

It’s just not smart for Fort Detrick to drag its feet in letting people know. It’s bad enough that some in the community are nervous about it because it tests some of the deadliest pathogens on the planet. You’d think that officials there would want to get out in front of the story, particularly in a case where the public was never at risk.

Instead, they allowed a few days of sometimes wild speculation about what the CDC’s actions meant. We saw a number of online commenters, for instance, who filled the information gap with their version of the “truth.”

We expect a public community institution such as Fort Detrick to be as transparent as possible, particularly when it comes to safety issues on post.

Apparently, we’re not alone. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote to Ryan D. McCarthy, acting secretary of the Army, asking for more details about the lab shutdown and why his office wasn’t informed. He learned about the shutdown from media reports.

Van Hollen also wants to know how the shutdown will affect further research. Considering that the post is the largest employer in Frederick County, we’d like to know that too.

We’d also like to see Fort Detrick leaders sit down with local officials to review the guidelines and recommendations agreed upon in 2010 to see if they are still applicable given the current health and safety risks on post. Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick) told a Frederick News-Post reporter the same earlier this week.

To be clear, we aren’t questioning the importance of the work being done in the Fort Detrick labs. On the contrary, much of the research going on there helps not only find ways to protect our military troops who may be exposed to a variety of diseases, but it can also lead to health care advances from which we can all benefit.

If Fort Detrick is to be a good neighbor, there needs to be trust. But there won’t be trust if there’s not transparency when issues arise. Fort Detrick failed in this instance. We hope they don’t again.

(19) comments

mcdow

WHAT "Frederick County Leaders" were informed and didn't make a plan to communicate with our community?!?! "In fairness to them, they thought the Army would...." In fairness to our citizens, you have responsibilities. Everyone keeps it quiet - and then the rumors are the problem. Excuse makers!

francesca_easa

Hey does this mean it will scare away developers from plowing over more green space? I hope so.

MRS M

Let's emphasize again the reason for the shutdown: "The labs operated by USAMRIID, failed to follow local procedures, lacked periodic re-certification training of employees, and had problems with the wastewater decontamination system". Anyone reading this who doesn't see a serious problem and threat for those who work there (and their families), and those who live in the surrounding Maryland communities, truly doesn't understand the vast scope of regulations that exist within the USA to protect communities and citizens from the inherent risks, and cost/benefits of medical research. The Army dropped the ball big time, and the level of dysfunction and lack of oversight in training and implementation of strict regulations is more than sobering; it's dangerous and a threat to all. This can't be stated strongly enough. Public health is at risk. Forget about "Rebuilding Trust' with the Frederick Community. How about those in the Army hierarchy responsible for following the regulations that protect public health and safety actually do their JOBS? Again, the dysfunction is frankly a disaster for this organization, and they deserve to be shut down. What will be telling is how long it takes before they are allowed to re-start their research.....if at all.

islandcuban

maybe if the scientists and lab staff that work in this level 4 lab lived on the base (or in one of the neighborhoods that are next door to Fort Detrick), these problems would go away.

They should close this lab down

threecents

I think a lot of them do live on base and in the surrounding neighborhoods. They all certainly spend a lot of time on base and in the surrounding neighborhoods. As the article on the front page alluded to, they are the most regulated and scrutinized lab in Frederick, but likely not the most dangerous.

threecents

Dr. M (?), How safe are diagnostic labs? Are they inspected at all? Would we know if any of them failed an inspection? Do the workers use negative pressure biosafety cabinets in negative pressure labs? Is all their liquid and solid waste decontaminated at least twice? Probably you don't see Ebola in hospital waste. Maybe just MRSA, flu, C. diff, Salmonella, E. coli, and such. Maybe an occasional case of TB or something exotic like that?

islandcuban

hey three cents

Correct

My issue is that Detrick apparently has weaponized anthrax in its stockpile.

I hear that weaponized Avian Flu has been achieved; how about weaponized smallpox?

Frederick is no longer the sleepy little hollow it was in the 1960's when these programs were started.


glenkrc

I think you ought to be careful using the term "stockpile". We still have a nuclear weapons stockpile. We shouldn't have a biological agent stockpile.

http://disarmament.un.org/treaties/t/bwc/text

threecents

Dr. M, I am a big fan of your columns and a supporter of your shuttle plan, but Ugg, you were played by whoever told you that. Please do me a favor and ask the same person if he/she thinks vaccines cause autism, if 9/11 was an inside job, and if the moon landings were faked. The Fort Detrick offensive program ended in 1969 and was replaced by The National Cancer Institute. The remaining defensive program, USAMRIID, develops treatments, vaccines, and diagnostic tests. For example, they helped develop the Ebola vaccine and the antibodies used to treat Ebola in Africa. I encourage you to google all of that for the details or ask one of your congressmen.

gabrielshorn2013

This facility has been doing biological research of some of the most dangerous pathogens for many decades. The area grew up around Ft. Detrick, Detrick did not grow in Frederick, and what is done there is common knowledge. Remember the Anthrax tower? They should not have to close at all. New residents of an area need to know what goes on in that area before moving there. It's like moving in next to the airport, and complaining about the noise. The lab will get this sorted out and reopen.

User1

And Ft Detrick as well? Remember all you crying hearts last year when they thought a civilian contract lab may closes due to funding. My how you cried that it was the “bad Orange Man”. Things happen and why complain if you don’t know the background? Should be complaining about your city and county leaders for failing to inform YOU of issues that MAY affect you. No affect then no need to know.

glenkrc

According to the FNP, USAMRIID had a change-of-command ceremony on July 23, so the letter was sent only 8 days prior to this change. One thus wonders if the timing of the letter affected the organization's public response.

threecents

FNP, If it took "several weeks" for the lab to report the shutdown, then how did the FNP report on it two weeks after the report was issued? As for your claim that online comments helped fill you fill in the story, I just checked the online comments from all four of your front page stories on this situation, and none of them fill in the story.

rmaghan1

Exactly, sensationalized news by the FNP over nothing that no one cares about

User1

Yep, the installation notifiers the community leaders..it is then THEIR responsibility as elected officials to notify the community. What did these officials do? Oh, they were too busy deciding on a new city “logo” for $45K!

gabrielshorn2013

[thumbup]

trwz

rmaghan1 - don't state that "no one cares" - I care.

rmaghan1

It’s the military, what happens in these labs is classified, your not going to have a sit down feel good love fest friendly neighbor talk with USAMRID. They failed inspections, are shut down, no one was hurt so not sure why your sensationalizing this. Didn’t even make national news. I did notice your plug for concerned Democrats kept in the dark though which is hilarious.

User1

Exactly! As I said above...it is our elected officials responsibility to notify the public, NOT Ft Detrick’s! And again, if the effect in negligible on the civilian community then why raise the alarm?

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