The Pentagon’s revelation in late May 2015 that it inadvertently sent live anthrax spores over approximately a decade to 51 laboratories in 17 states and the District of Columbia has led some people to question the Pentagon’s right to handle anthrax.
“How can the Pentagon have anthrax,” they ask, “when the U. S. signed the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972?” The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was initially signed by 22 governments, including the U. S. but as of December 2014, it prohibits all 173 governments that have agreed to the BWC. The parties agree to prohibit the development, production and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons and on their destruction.
Though the BWC prohibits development, use, storage and transportation of toxic weapons for hostile purposes, it makes exceptions for small quantities retained for medical and defensive purposes. The possession of toxic weapons is not prohibited; the purpose for possessing them is the key.
The Pentagon retains and dispenses anthrax to commercial laboratories and government “facilities” for research and to attune biohazard sensors. However, the anthrax is supposed to be bombarded with gamma rays prior to shipment in order to kill any live spores.
The concern over the Pentagon’s failure is fivefold: the Pentagon somehow failed to bombard the anthrax with gamma rays, either completely or insufficiently to kill the live spores; the Pentagon failed to conduct required follow-up tests to determine that the spores were killed prior to shipment; the Pentagon failed to notice those mistakes since 2005 – 2006; 51 laboratories have reportedly received the live anthrax but officials anticipate a higher number, as 400+ “master batches” of anthrax at 4 Defense Department laboratories have not been tested to date.
How did the Pentagon finally realize those mistakes? One of the commercial laboratories in Maryland told the Pentagon in late May 2015 that the “dead anthrax” shipped to it had live spores.
Despite the fact that live anthrax spores have supposedly been sent to Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, the Pentagon asserts that there is no danger to the public. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work asserts that the anthrax was disbursed in such low concentrations and in such secure packing that it nearly certainly is no health risk to anybody outside the laboratories.
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