Anthrax Blunder Reveals Deadly Potential Of Accidents

Christine Gorman | Scientific American | June 23, 2014

A lab director has reportedly been reassigned and other heads at the U.S. Center for Disease Control are likely to roll after an incident earlier this month in which at least 75 staff members may have accidentally been exposed to live samples of anthrax being transported from one lab to another. The samples were supposed to have been inactivated before they were transferred—and it is unclear why they were not.

Naturally there will be an investigation. But there is a bigger issue at play here beyond just why proper procedure was not followed. And it’s one that Scientific American last raised in 2008 with “Postal Anthrax Aftermath: Has Biodefense Spending Made Us Safer?” and, at greater length, in 2007 with “Laboratory Letdowns.”

Put another way: which is the more likely threat to public safety—a series of accidental releases of deadly organisms from the high-level biodefense labs that have proliferated in the wake of the anthrax attacks of 2001 or a single, but much bigger, intentional release by an actual terrorist network?...