Maryland Senator Pens Letter to Army over Fort Detrick Lab Shutdown

Two soldiers stand guard at the main gate of Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, where the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases is located. (Getty Images/Alex Wong)
Two soldiers stand guard at the main gate of Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, where the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases is located. (Getty Images/Alex Wong)

The recent shutdown of research at a Fort Detrick laboratory has some local officials wondering if there was enough notice to the public.

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases received a cease and desist order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on July 15.

USAMRIID informed the Maryland Department of Health, the Frederick County Health Department, the Frederick County Department of Emergency Management and the Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee, spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said in an email. Other Fort Detrick officials alerted County Executive Jan Gardner and Frederick city Mayor Michael O'Connor.

Dr. Randall Culpepper, deputy health officer, said the county health department had been notified shortly after USAMRIID received a cease and desist letter from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to previous News-Post reporting.

But outside of notifying officials, there was little word on the halt to USAMRIID research before Aug. 2.

Congressman David Trone (D-Maryland) said in a statement his staff is contact with USARMIID officials and that he is watching the situation.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) is looking for more information about the USAMRIID situation. In a letter he sent to the acting secretary of the Army, Van Hollen wrote that he was deeply concerned about the halt to research at the military laboratory.

He also questioned why he learned about the stop to research from media reports instead of from USAMRIID or other Army officials. He will meet with Brig. Gen. Michael J. Talley, according to the letter, dated Friday.

Van Hollen wants to learn more about the background and relevant details from the CDC inspection. The CDC can regularly inspect USAMRIID, announced and unannounced, because of its participation in the Federal Select Agent Program, according to the Code of Federal Regulations.

He would also like to know how the stop to research will affect ongoing projects, any potential exposure to workers and the Army's plan for bringing USAMRIID back into compliance.

Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick) is among those who question if there was enough notice given to the public. When Krimm was an alderman for the city of Frederick, she sat through a review of the health and safety risks posed by USAMRIID and other high-containment facilities on Fort Detrick. A copy of the guidelines and recommendations was published in 2010.

When it comes to communicating with the public, USAMRIID officials should "expand its two-way communications with the public," according to the review. This could include disclosing laboratory incidents to the public or providing fact sheets about pathogens.

Krimm wants to review the research shutdown due to safety violations against the 2010 recommendations. While USAMRIID did notify local government officials following the cease and desist order, Krimm questioned why they were not alerted earlier, including when the CDC came to inspect the facility. USAMRIID and local officials should go over the situation compared to the recommendations to make sure everything was followed.

"I know that they're doing their best over there to ensure safety," she said. "But something went wrong here, and I still don't know what went wrong. But something did because CDC closed the labs. Something went wrong. So I think there needs to be more transparency, and I think whenever we are dealing with the public, the more information, the better."

This article is written by Heather Mongilio from The Frederick News-Post, Md. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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