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

* Bruce Ivins at USAMRIID found it amazing that 6 million rads wasn’t killing the spores

Posted by DXer on June 13, 2015

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12 Responses to “* Bruce Ivins at USAMRIID found it amazing that 6 million rads wasn’t killing the spores”

  1. DXer said

    “During the discussion with the technical staff, there were inconsistent answers about how often irradiated samples test positive. One researcher used a generic answer of 2-3% (no documentation was provided)…”

    “Review Committee Report: Inadvertent Shipment of Live Bacillus anthraces spores by DoD,” July 13, 2015

    • DXer said

      Irradiation Methodology:
      USAMRIID conducted kill curve studies on Ames and Colorado strains of BA, more than a decade ago. The study subjected samples to gamma radiation doses up to 40 kGy with the results indicating spore inactivation at 20 kGy. For inactivation purposes, the decision was made to use 40 kGy as the dose for spores. Earlier in this report we showed that the current operational procedures used by USAMRIID (and all other DoD laboratories) are outside of the historical experimental kill curves produced at USAMRIID and captured in published research.7,17-20

      “Review Committee Report: Inadvertent Shipment of Live Bacillus anthraces spores by DoD,” July 13, 2015

      • DXer said

        To conduct the procedure, the radiation safety officer (RSO) calculates the position of the container of spores to be irradiated in the chamber, as well as the time of exposure to achieve the necessary dose, factoring in the age of the radiation source (Cobalt-60). USAMRIID routinely freezes their samples and maintains this state by employing an ice/dry-ice bath in which the samples sit throughout the irradiation. Independent verification of the dose received is not performed. USAMRIID does not maintain control charts to identify the frequency of off-normal operations by their irradiation instruments.”

        “Review Committee Report: Inadvertent Shipment of Live Bacillus anthraces spores by DoD,” July 13, 2015, p. 27.

    • DXer said

      Dugway also estimated a 2-3% failure rate historically but their own (incomplete) records showed a 21% failure rate:

      “Preparations of Inactivated BA Spores:

      DPG produces inactivated biological agents in support of the DoD Critical Reagents Program. These materials are provided to customers to support research and development, quality assurance, and test and evaluation activities. When the committee asked “how often do irradiated samples fail the viability test?” the answer was about 2-3%. DPG communicated that no root cause analysis was performed on these anomalies. At the end of our discussion, the committee members asked for documentation on failed viability tests of irradiated samples. The documentation provided shows that since 2012, there have been a total of 19 BA inactivations. From these, four samples failed the viability test (21% failure rate). About 10% were attributed to a failing turntable in the irradiator. Lack of supporting documents for many of the answers to critical questions during the committee’s visit pointed to poor record keeping in a critical production laboratory.”

      “Review Committee Report: Inadvertent Shipment of Live Bacillus anthraces spores by DoD,” July 13, 2015, p. 31.

  2. DXer said

    USA Today addresses these emails by Ivins in an article today.

    Army lab lacked effective anthrax-killing procedures for 10 years
    Alison Young, USA Today, June 17, 2015

    The U.S. Army research facility that has mistakenly shipped live anthrax to unsuspecting labs in the U.S. and abroad for more than 10 years failed to have effective and standardized procedures for killing the deadly bacteria with radiation, according to a federal investigation report obtained by USA TODAY.

    The report, dated June 5, cites the Dugway Proving Ground’s Life Science Test Facility in Utah with three violations of federal regulations for working with potential bioterror agents and orders the facility to immediately cease all shipments of “inactivated” anthrax specimens.

    According to the report by lab inspectors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dugway scientists were using Cobalt 60 gamma radiation to kill or deactivate anthrax specimens before shipping them to government or private labs for further research.

    But Dugway’s standard procedures for irradiating anthrax “did not account for the variable amounts of spores treated in the gamma cell irradiator,” the report noted. The method used “was not validated using standardized control spore samples at varying concentrations, volumes, and levels of irradiation.”

    As a result, anthrax bacteria were shipped out at least 74 times to dozens of labs in the U.S. and at least five foreign countries from January 2005 to May 2015. Anthrax spores can be potentially fatal if inhaled.


    The new CDC report about Dugway’s anthrax mishaps, which is only three pages long, provides little detail about radiation dosages and durations, and exactly how Dugway’s scientists were verifying that each batch was fully killed. The report addresses the problems in general terms.


    The emails from accused anthrax letter terrorist Bruce Ivins — a microbiologist at the Army’s elite infectious disease laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. — offer possible clues about what may have happened at Dugway.

    Emails sent by Ivins during the normal course of his work with anthrax at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, often called USAMRIID, provide a window into the difficulties scientists face killing the bacterium and its hardy spores. They also indicate that scientists did not follow a universal, standardized protocol for what percentage of anthrax specimens in an irradiated batch needed to undergo verification tests before the batch was considered sterile and safe for shipment and use without significant safety precautions.

    The emails are among a massive trove of Ivins’ correspondence released in 2010 and posted online in a Freedom of Information Act reading room of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command after federal officials formally closed their investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks. Ivins, 62, died from an intentional overdose of acetaminophen in July 2008 as prosecutors prepared to charge him with sending the anthrax-filled letters that killed five and sickened 17 others.

    In a March 2008 email about the planned shipment of some irradiated anthrax spores, Ivins references a recent division meeting and wrote: “As discussed at the meeting, 50% (5 ml) of the material was checked for sterility on SBA, and there was no growth at all. You may have seen [redacted] insistence that we need only check 10% of the material for sterility, but I think that a 50% check for B. anthracis samples is a good idea. We’ve had in the past some samples that failed sterility checks, so 50% leaves us ‘better safe than sorry.’ ”

    The email indicates that to verify that the irradiated spores were killed, samples were being put on a sheep blood agar plate to see if the bacteria would grow.

    It is unclear whom Ivins was writing to in the email or where the specimens were going to be sent. The Army has redacted all other names, including that of the person or organization Ivins said was advocating only testing 10% of the irradiated samples. Over the years, Ivins’ emails show he did work with anthrax researchers at Dugway Proving Ground and that USAMRIID had an anthrax spore production contract with Dugway.

    In 2006 and early 2007, Ivins’ emails indicate that he did verification tests only on 10% of irradiated anthrax specimens. “The spores were irradiated on October 30. On November 2, [redacted] plated out 10% of each of the preps onto SBA plates. All were negative for growth 24 hours later. They will be incubated over the weekend,” Ivins wrote in a Nov. 3, 2006, email.

    By the summer of 2007, however, Ivins and his colleagues ran into a concerning series of irradiation failures, the emails show.

    “The 27 spore samples that were irradiated on 30 MAY 07 (see enclosed file) came back still ‘hot,’ ” Ivins wrote in a June 7, 2007, email sent to eight other people whose names are redacted. The specimens, he wrote, would be sent back for another irradiation dose of 1 million rads “which should kill the remaining viable spores.” Emails in the string show the May irradiation dose was 5 megarads.

    But Ivins had bad news to report on June 13, 2007: “Irradiation sterilization failure … again,” said the subject line of his email, which said that even with the additional radiation dose, the spores could still grow. His email said that verification tests were done on 18 of the 27 samples — and 12 of the 18 were still “hot.” And so they were again going to be sent back to receive an additional 2 megarads of radiation. “Hopefully this will work. Stay tuned … – bruce,” wrote Ivins

    An unidentified recipient of the email replied: “What is going on with the irradiator? Is it not working properly? These things are going to be fried to a crisp!”

    Ivins was puzzled, too. “In the past, 4 megarads would do the job. This is 2 million rads over that, and still no sterility,” he replied.

    The next morning, June 14, 2007, Ivins emailed with more bad news: “After recheck of the 6 samples that appeared to pass sterility check after a total of 6 million rads, only two samples remained negative.” The other four, it turned out, weren’t dead and needed more radiation, he wrote.

    It’s unclear what may have caused the repeated irradiation failures. Issues relating to irradiation are again mentioned in the publicly available emails in August 2007, when an unidentified person wrote to Ivins asking for the paperwork on the 27 spore samples. In his reply, Ivins wrote that “several rounds of irradiation had to be done to finally get all of the spores sterile. It seems as though the new irradiator isn’t as reliable as the old one for some reason.”

    Military officials didn’t answer USA TODAY’s questions about the radiation doses used at the Dugway Proving Ground lab, which is the focus of the current international investigation of live anthrax shipments. They also didn’t answer questions about what percentage of anthrax specimens in each irradiated batch were undergoing verification tests for sterility at Dugway. They did, however, email a statement on Wednesday about Ivins’ emails detailing the 2007 irradiation failures:

    “It is clear from these emails that the investigators did their due diligence to determine what was causing the failure and that no live material was used in the lab or sent to other labs,” said the statement emailed by Maj. Eric Badger, a Defense Department spokesman. As part of the department’s comprehensive review of Dugway’s mishaps, investigators are “examining, among other things, the failure rates of gamma irradiation for killing anthrax.”

  3. DXer said

    Bowen et al. (1996) reported that a predicted dose of 36 kGy was required to destroy all of the B. anthracis (Ames strain) spores in a 10 ml frozen suspension at a concentration of 109 spores ml-1, and that 41Æ5 kGy was the ‘appropriate dose’ to assure complete inactivation.

    Bowen, J.E., Manchee, R.J., Watson, S. and Turnbull, P.C.B. (1996) Inactivation of Bacillus anthracis vegetative cells and spores by gamma irradiation. Salisbury Medical Bulletin 87(supp), 70–72.

    However, the authors also noted that seven of 31 spore suspension of different B. anthracis strains (109 to 1010 spores ml-1) failed sterility checks after exposure to a dose of 44 kGy. The authors used a gamma ray irradiator, which took 50 h to deliver the 41Æ5 kGy dose (0Æ014 kGy min-1).

  4. DXer said

    Yesterday I was surprised that Tikka Marsala from Costco wasn’t cooked by the specified 4 minutes in the microwave. So I put it in for another 4 minutes. Then another 2. And my wife still noted that it was a bit cold when served.

    I don’t know why it took so long — maybe it was that there were two packages inside instead of just the one I would have expected.

    I also don’t know what happened to this missing weaponized anthrax that was shipped to USAMRIID and then went missing. Does Congress?

  5. DXer said

    Click to access 20070611_batch78(redacted).pdf

    From: Ivins, Bruce E Dr USAMRIID Sent: Thursday, June 14, 2007 9:12 AM
    To: Ivins, Bruce E Dr USAMRIID
    Subject: More bad irradiation news (UNCLASSIFIED)
    Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
    Caveats: NONE

    After recheck of the 6 samples that appeared to pass sterility check after a total of 6 million rads, only two samples remained negative. The other four – 5C, 6B, 7B and 9B – came up hot. Only 7A and 9A don’t need to be irradiated again.
    Bruce Ivins

  6. DXer said

    Bruce Ivins found it amazing that 6 million rads was not killing the spores. “Irradiation sterilization failure … again.” Emailed dated June 13, 2007.

    Click to access 20070611_batch78(redacted).pdf

    His colleague, a friend of mine, famously said in a June 13, 2007 email: “Some thing is not right.”

    Ivins in response said something like: “And what’s not right is all that’s left.”

    Before 9/11, virulent Ames was being irradiated with 5 million rads.FN/

    The FBI’s entire analysis was based on the scientifically unvalidated assumption that irradiation was effective and only samples not irradiated needed to be included in the genetic analysis.

    The FBI’s entire genetic analysis — in addition to all the flaws and limitations previously pointed out — rested on a centrally flawed premise.


    Click to access 20000321_Anthrax%20spores.pdf

    From: To: Subject: Date:



    Ivins, Bruce E Dr USAMRIID (b) (6) USAMRIID

    Anthrax spores
    Tuesday, March 21, 2000 7:50:34 AM

    Yesterday, 20 MAR 00, B. anthracis Ames spores were irradiated by your department with 5 million rads. The samples were plated out onto Tryptic soy agar and found to be sterile.

    – Bruce Ivins Bacteriology Division

  7. DXer said

    In 2008, USAMRIID was back irradiating Ames anthrax spores with 4 million rads even after the repeated failure in 2007 at 6 million rads.

    Click to access 20070611_batch78(redacted).pdf

    But at least Ivins in 2008 recognized that a 50% check of samples leaves us “better safe than sorry” (as opposed to the insistence by you-know-who that only 10% was necessary

    Click to access 20080312_batch85(redacted).pdf

    Hint: You will want to request Irradiation Form (FC-10-01.F1) If CDC invokes FOIA 7(a), you should appeal and then bring suit.

    • DXer said

      There is an attachment to the June 13, 2007 email that has not been provided yet. In the past, USAMRIID has always been extremely good at providing specified attachments when asked.

      Click to access 20070611_batch78(redacted).pdf

      Ivins, Bruce E Dr USAMRIID
      Ivins, Bruce E Dr USAMRIID;

      FW: Irradiation sterilization failure…again (UNCLASSIFIED)
      Wednesday, June 13, 2007 3:08:04 PM
      Classification: UNCLASSIFIED Caveats: NONE

      Please note the new spreadsheet. 4A-9C were tested on SBA. The numbers in red were still positive for B. anthracis growth. The numbers in blue were negative for B. anthracis. The negative samples were re- plated to make sure they are negative.
      Bruce Ivins

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