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Pentagon: Anthrax shipments broader than first thought

FILE - In this May 11, 2003, file photo, Microbiologist Ruth Bryan works with BG nerve agent simulant in Class III Glove Box in the Life Sciences Test Facility at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. The specialized airtight enclosure is also used for hands-on work with anthrax and other deadly agents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is investigating what the Pentagon called an inadvertent shipment of live anthrax spores to government and commercial laboratories in as many as nine states, as well as one overseas, that expected to receive dead spores. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon said Friday that the Army’s mistaken shipments of live anthrax to research laboratories were more widespread than it initially reported, prompting the Defense Department’s second-ranking official to order a thorough review.

In a statement issued Friday evening, the department said 24 laboratories in 11 states and two foreign countries — South Korea and Australia — are believed to have received suspect anthrax samples.

The broadening scope of the problem suggests more extensive flaws in procedures used by the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah to ensure that anthrax samples were made fully inert before shipping them to labs. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work on Friday ordered a comprehensive review of laboratory procedures associated with inactivating anthrax.

Dugway, in a desolate stretch of the Utah desert, has been testing chemical weapons since it opened in 1942.

Earlier Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said suspect samples from Dugway had been sent to 18 labs in nine U.S. states and a military base in South Korea. Later, the Pentagon said the Army may have mistakenly sent live anthrax to a laboratory in Australia in 2008.

CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said the agency is testing to see which anthrax samples were live. The results are coming in slowly, she said, and the first full set of findings isn’t expected until next week.

A Wisconsin commercial laboratory, meanwhile, confirmed Friday it was among the labs that received live anthrax spores last week. BBI Detection of Madison, which employs fewer than 20 people, remains partially closed. No employees have gotten sick or are in danger, and there is no danger to the public, said Jackie Lustig, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts-based Alere Inc., which owns BBI.

CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said four people at labs in Delaware, Texas and Wisconsin were recommended to get antibiotics as a precaution, although they are not sick. About two dozen people were being treated for possible exposure at Osan Air Base in South Korea.

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McCombs reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press reporter Mike Stobbe contributed from New York.

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