Containment committee airs concerns about Fort Detrick transparency
(Tribune News Service) — The committee responsible for providing feedback on containment labs at Fort Detrick has concerns about the transparency of information the Army base provides to the committee.
The Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee has questions about a May 2018 flooding incident in which it says wastewater from a U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases facility went into Carroll Creek, as well as about an April shooting in which a gunman was killed on the base after a shooting incident in Frederick.
“We’ve had two major incidents and little transparency,” CLCAC Chairman Matthew Sharkey told the Frederick mayor and aldermen at a workshop Wednesday.
In the 2018 incident, USAMRIID said it checked to see if there were any concerns but wouldn’t explain how, Sharkey said.
Any claim that water from the incident at the facility’s steam sterilization plant reached Carroll Creek is “completely not true,” Fort Detrick spokeswoman Lanessa Hill said Wednesday.
USAMRIID took samples from multiple locations and tested for 16 bacterial and viral organisms, including anthrax, Ebola and Lassa fever, she said.
It also reached out to agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of the Army, the Maryland Department of the Environment, and the Maryland Department of Health — as well as sent letters to Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor and County Executive Jan Gardner — to inform them of the results, Hill said.
“Using the scale developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Select Agents and Toxins, we determined the risk to the public from the steam sterilization plant incident to be ‘negligible,’” then-Detrick and USAMRIID commanders Col. Dexter Nunnally and Col. E. Darrin Cox wrote to O’Connor and Gardner on March 4, 2020. “’Negligible’ is defined as ‘insignificant threat to entity personnel or the health of the public or agriculture.’”
They went on to say, “The best available evidence in May 2018 strongly suggested that no material from the leak left the boundary of Fort Detrick. As of this date, we believe that is still the case.”
Regarding the April 6 active shooter incident that began in the city of Frederick and continued onto Fort Detrick before the gunman, a Navy corpsman, was shot and killed by base security, Sharkey expressed concern that the man was able to get relatively far onto the base before he was confronted.
“This ended better than it could have ended,” he said.
Since Fort Detrick security knew the man was coming, Sharkey asked what would happen if 10 people in different vehicles showed up at different gates when people at the base didn’t know they were coming.
In an Aug. 25 letter to O’Connor, Detrick commander Col. Danford W. Bryant wrote that the FBI is leading the investigation and the Navy is handling questions about the shooter, so the Army and Fort Detrick have no authority to speak about the incident.
“Any questions regarding specific security procedures and processes at Fort Detrick are operational security measures and considered highly sensitive information, which cannot be discussed,” Bryant wrote.
While they value the CLCAC’s intentions, the base doesn’t believe the questions are in line with the committee’s purpose, he said.
Sharkey said efforts to find answers to the questions have proven to be part of a pattern of the base’s command not wanting to engage in discussion.
The only time the committee hears from Detrick is when there’s an emergency, he said.
Sharkey also asked the mayor and aldermen for help in identifying local businesses that operate laboratories under a law that went into effect in October 2020 to locate and provide information about the labs.
Aldermen Ben MacShane and Derek Shackelford expressed sympathy for the committee’s questions but doubted that the city could be much use in getting answers.
“I don’t know that we’re really viewed as an information stakeholder” as much as city officials should be, MacShane said.
Shackelford added that with the way Detrick and the military work, the city may be limited in getting answers to some of its questions.
Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter:@RMarshallFNP
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