CASE CLOSED … what really happened in the 2001 anthrax attacks?

* Old Atlantic summarizes important questions that we hope the GAO will be looking at

Posted by DXer on April 1, 2011

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Congressman Holt and the GAO are Dr. Bruce Ivins best chance for a deserved posthumous exoneration

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Old Atlantic asks (in a recent comment bringing together information originally supplied by DXer and others) …

  • Who at the FBI, if anyone, has put together that Ivins’ nights in the BSL3 were all night checks of animals at the same time and someone else was checking during the day and thus growth of spores by Ivins was ruled out on those dates?
  • Did the first FBI team do that?
  • Is this the reason the FBI won’t say when the anthrax was grown by Ivins?  Won’t “speculate” on growth scenarios?  They know that the spike in hours by Ivins in the BSL3 after hours were on days he could not have grown anthrax spores?
  • Their own charts prove Ivins could not have grown spores in other months, assuming August is the same deal, because he was not in the BSL3.
  • Did the people who checked animals on those days already tell the FBI they did?  Do they feel they have already come forward?  Is the FBI sending a message, don’t come public with this and the heavy handed investigation tactics will not return?

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5 Responses to “* Old Atlantic summarizes important questions that we hope the GAO will be looking at”

  1. Old Atlantic said

    We can add getting the logs pointed out by Zicon to enter building 1412 and 1425 for August through October 2001. These can be used to help determine which building was doing the mice and other animal experiments, which building Ivins was doing his checks in, whether others were doing checks in the same buildings, whether the animals were in the BSL3 in 1425, where the animals were necropsied and autoclaved, etc.

    These logs are filled out during normal hours not just nights and weekends? Every person every day gets a badge separately for 1412 and 1425 and gives that building badge up when they leave it at each point during the day?

    So if a crowd leaves the building for lunch they line up to leave the badge and line up to get it when they come back? And sign in?

    Also any billing records for BSL3 or Ivins unit as a cost center and for the animal experiments. Who was paying for those animal experiments? Covance? Others? They have the billing records as well?

  2. DXer said

    When you start reading the numerous reports by the GAO on the anthrax vaccine and related studies, you begin to appreciate the depth of their experience on the background of these issues.

    Anthrax Detection: Agencies Need to Validate Sampling Activities in Order to Increase Confidence in Negative Reults
    GAO-05-493T April 5, 2005
    Highlights Page (PDF) Full Report (PDF, 22 pages) Accessible Text

    Summary

    In September and October 2001, letters laced with Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) spores were sent through the mail to two U.S. senators and to members of the media. These letters led to the first U.S. cases of anthrax disease related to bioterrorism. In all, 22 individuals, in four states and Washington, D.C., contracted anthrax disease; 5 died. These cases prompted the Subcommittee to ask GAO to describe and assess federal agencies’ activities to detect anthrax in postal facilities, assess the results of agencies’ testing, and assess whether agencies’ detection activities were validated.

    The U.S. Postal Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted several interdependent activities, including sample collection and analytic methods, to detect anthrax in postal facilities in 2001. They developed a sampling strategy and collected, transported, extracted, and analyzed samples. They primarily collected samples from specific areas, such as mail processing areas, using their judgment about where anthrax would most likely be found–that is, targeted sampling. The agencies did not use probability sampling in their initial sampling strategy. Probability sampling would have allowed agencies to determine, with some defined level of confidence, when all results are negative, whether a building is contaminated. This is important, considering that low levels of anthrax could cause disease and death in susceptible individuals. The results of the agencies’ testing in 286 postal facilities were largely negative–no anthrax was detected. But negative results do not necessarily mean that a facility is free from anthrax. In addition, agencies’ detection activities (for example, sample collection and analytical methods) were not validated. Validation is a formal, empirical process in which an authority determines and certifies the performance characteristics of a given method. Consequently, the lack of validation of agencies’ activities, coupled with limitations associated with their targeted sampling strategy, means that negative results may not be reliable. In preparing for future incidents, the agencies have (1) made some changes based on what has been learned about some of the limitations of their sampling strategies, (2) made some revisions to their guidelines, and (3) funded some new research. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken on the role of coordinating agencies’ activities and has undertaken several new initiatives related to anthrax and other bio-threat agents. However, while the actions DHS and other agencies have taken are important, they do not address the issue of validating all activities related to sampling. Finally, the agencies have not made appropriate and prioritized investments to develop and validate all activities related to anthrax and other bio-threat agents.

    • DXer said

      For example, the GAO is well-qualified to note the discrepancy between the CDC peer-reviewed finding in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases that there likely were 2 letters sent to AMI publication traveling two routes through the Florida post offices. The NAS simply glossed over the issue, not having been given any of those materials by the FBI in its 9600 pages.

      U.S. Postal Service: Better Guidance Is Needed to Ensure an Appropriate Response to Anthrax Contamination
      GAO-04-239 September 9, 2004
      Highlights Page (PDF) Full Report (PDF, 83 pages) Accessible Text Recommendations (HTML)

      Summary

      In September and October 2001, at least four letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to news media personnel and two U.S. Senators, leading to the first cases of bioterrorism-related anthrax in the United States. The contaminated letters, which were delivered through the U.S. mail system, caused 22 cases of anthrax, 5 of them fatal. Nine postal employees associated with two postal facilities that processed the letters–Trenton in New Jersey and Brentwood in Washington, D.C.–contracted anthrax and two Brentwood employees died. The U.S. Postal Service closed Trenton and Brentwood, but other contaminated postal facilities remained open. GAO’s review covers Trenton, Brentwood, and three of these other facilities. As requested, this report describes (1) the factors considered in deciding whether to close the five facilities, (2) the information communicated to postal employees about health risk and the extent of the facilities’ contamination, and (3) how lessons learned from the response to the contamination could be used in future situations.

      According to Postal Service managers, public health officials, and union representatives, the Postal Service considered the health risks to its employees ahead of its mission to deliver the mail in deciding whether to close postal facilities. The Postal Service relied on public health agencies to assess the health risks to its employees. These agencies believed the risks to be minimal until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed cases of anthrax in postal employees at Trenton and Brentwood. The Postal Service then closed these facilities. Public health agencies underestimated the health risks to postal employees, in part, because they did not know that anthrax spores could leak from taped, unopened letters in sufficient quantities to cause a fatal form of anthrax. The Postal Service kept the three other facilities covered by GAO’s review open because public health officials had advised the agency that employees at those centers were at minimal risk. CDC and the Postal Service have said they would have made different decisions if they had earlier understood the health risks to postal employees. The Postal Service communicated information to affected postal employees about the health risks posed by, and the extent of, anthrax contamination at the five facilities in GAO’s review, but problems with accuracy, clarity, and timeliness led employees to question the information they received. Problems with accuracy stemmed from incomplete information about health risks, and problems with clarity occurred as information on the medical response to anthrax contamination changed with experience. Problems with timeliness occurred when the Postal Service delayed the release of quantitative data (anthrax spore counts) for one facility, in part because it was uncertain what the results meant for worker safety and public health. To communicate more effectively, the Postal Service has established a center to coordinate information within the postal system and has worked with other agencies to develop guidelines for responding to anthrax. The response to anthrax contamination revealed several lessons, the most important of which is that agencies need to choose a course of action that poses the least risk of harm when considering actions to protect people from uncertain and potentially life-threatening health risks. Because public health officials underestimated the health risks involved, actions to protect postal employees were delayed. In addition, agencies’ guidance did not cover all of the circumstances that occurred. The Postal Service has since revised its guidance, but the revised guidance (1) does not define some key terms, including those that would trigger a decision to evacuate a facility, (2) includes some outdated references that could cause confusion during a future response, and (3) does not address certain issues, such as what steps would be taken during the interval between a diagnosis of anthrax in a postal employee and confirmation of the disease. In addition, the guidance does not reflect proactive measures, including facility closures, that the Postal Service has recently implemented in response to suspected contamination.

    • DXer said

      Anthrax Detection: DHS Cannot Ensure That Sampling Activities Will Be Validated
      GAO-07-687T March 29, 2007
      Highlights Page (PDF) Full Report (PDF, 18 pages) Accessible Text

      Summary

      In September and October 2001, contaminated letters laced with Bacillus anthracis were sent through the mail to two U.S. senators and members of the media. Postal facilities in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere became heavily contaminated. The anthrax incidents highlighted major gaps in civilian preparedness to detect anthrax contamination in buildings. GAO was asked to describe and assess federal agencies’ activities to detect anthrax in postal facilities, assess the results of agencies’ testing, and assess whether agencies’ detection activities were validated.

      Federal agencies conducted several sampling activities, including developing a sampling strategy and collecting, transporting, extracting, and analyzing samples. They primarily collected samples from specific areas, such as mail processing areas, using their judgment about where anthrax would most likely be found–that is, targeted sampling. The agencies did not use probability sampling, which would have allowed agencies to determine, with some defined level of confidence, when all results are negative, whether a building is contaminated. The results of the agencies’ testing in 286 postal facilities were largely negative–no anthrax was detected. However, agencies did not use validated sample collection and analytical methods. Thus, there can be little confidence in negative results. With a validated process, agencies and the public could be reasonably confident that any test results generated by that process would be reliable. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the principal agency responsible for coordinating the federal response. Thus, in its 2005 report, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security develop a coordinated approach to improve the overall process for detecting anthrax and increase confidence in negative test results generated by that process. DHS stated that while it has overall responsibility for coordinating the federal response during future biological attacks, other agencies have the lead responsibility for validation. Therefore, uncertainty over which agency would take the lead role–that is, who is in charge–in improving the overall process for detecting anthrax, including validation of the methods, continued after GAO issued its report. On the basis of these uncertainties, GAO recommended in its May 9, 2006, testimony that DHS’s approach to validating the overall process start with a strategic plan that would include a road map outlining how individual agencies’ efforts would lead to the validation of the individual activities as well as the overall process, noting that such a plan would assist DHS in monitoring progress and measuring agency performance toward improving the detection of anthrax and other prioritized threat agents. While DHS generally agreed with these recommendations, it stated that it cannot ensure validation studies would be done, since “there are legal limitations in DHS authority to direct the activities of other agencies.” Also, since validation would require a sustained effort over a long period, DHS noted that it could not mandate commitment of other agencies’ funds, over which it has no control. Until responsibility is accepted for ensuring that sampling activities will be validated, the fate of the validation process will remain uncertain. Without validation, if another anthrax attack were to occur tomorrow, federal civilian agencies would not be able to conclude with any given level of statistical confidence, in cases of negative results, that a building is free of contamination.

    • DXer said

      http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-03-686

      Capitol Hill Anthrax Incident: EPA’s Cleanup Was Successful; Opportunities Exist to Enhance Contract Oversight

      GAO-03-686 June 4, 2003
      Highlights Page (PDF) Full Report (PDF, 47 pages) Accessible Text Recommendations (HTML)

      Summary

      In September and October 2001, the first cases of anthrax bioterrorism occurred in the United States when letters containing anthrax were mailed to congressional leaders and members of the news media. As the cleanup of the Capitol Hill anthrax site progressed, EPA’s estimates of the cleanup costs steadily rose. GAO was asked to describe (1) the costs EPA incurred to conduct the cleanup and how it was funded, (2) the extent to which EPA awarded the cleanup contracts competitively, (3) EPA’s oversight of the contractors’ work and any suggested changes to EPA’s contracting practices, and (4) the extent to which EPA agreed to indemnify contractors against liability for potential damages related to the cleanup.

      EPA spent about $27 million on the Capitol Hill anthrax cleanup, using funds from its Superfund program. From the outset, many uncertainties were associated with the cleanup effort, including how to remove anthrax from buildings. EPA revised its November 2001 estimate of $5 million several times during the cleanup as the nature and extent of the contamination became fully known and the solutions to remove and properly dispose of the anthrax were agreed upon and carried out. To conduct the cleanup, EPA relied extensively on the existing competitively awarded Superfund contracts it routinely uses to address threats posed by the release of hazardous substances. Specifically, about 80 percent of the contract costs were incurred under 10 of EPA’s existing Superfund contracts. EPA dedicated significant resources to overseeing the many contractors working on the Capitol Hill anthrax cleanup–including about 50 staff from nine regional offices experienced in leading and overseeing emergency environmental cleanups. Most often, these staff ensured that the contractors were on site and performing assigned tasks efficiently. EPA also assigned an administrative specialist to ensure that contract charges were accurate and reasonable. EPA’s assessment of its emergency responses to the anthrax incidents, which focused on or included the Capitol Hill site, concluded that, overall, the agency had used its contracts effectively but that it could improve some areas of its contracting support. In addition, GAO’s review of the Capitol Hill cleanup revealed inconsistencies in EPA’s cost oversight practices among regions. For example, EPA uses a computerized system for tracking contractor costs for hazardous substance removal contracts, but regions use the system inconsistently for the technical assessment contracts also used during emergency responses. Consistent use of the system would likely improve the quality of EPA’s nationwide contract data and enhance EPA’s oversight capabilities. EPA agreed to indemnify two contractors with key roles in the fumigation of the Hart Senate Office Building with chlorine dioxide gas against liability that could have resulted if a third party had been injured by the contractors’ release of a harmful substance, including anthrax.

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