(The following news story about the expanding and secretive U.S biological warfare operation is from Edward Hammond, Director of the arms control Sunshine Project, of Austin, Texas --- Sherwood Ross)
- Accident Happened During Biodefense Experiments-
Q Fever Cluster Not Reported to the Centers for Disease Control-
Second Documented Violation of Federal Bioweapons Law by Texas A&M-
Further Sanctions under Texas Public Information Act possible
Three Texas A&M University biodefense researchers were infected with the biological weapons agent Q Fever in 2006.
The infections were confirmed in April of that year, but Texas A&M officials did not report them to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as required by law.
Instead, Texas A&M officials covered the infections up until now, illegally failing to disclose them despite freedom of information requests dating back to October 2006.
The Q Fever cluster is a separate incident than the 2006 infection at Texas A&M with the bioweapons agent Brucella, first reported this April by the Sunshine Project.
Texas A&M is liable for $750,000 or more in federal fines ($1.5 million including the brucella incident) for failure to report, as well as possible charges under the Texas Public Information Act. After a lengthy freedom of information battle, documents received by the Sunshine Project June 25th reveal that the infections were confirmed on 3 April 2006.
On that day, Scott & White Hospital called A&M Professor James Samuel as well as Brent Maddox, the university's institutional biosafety officer, to tell them that three of Samuel's lab workers had tested positive for Q Fever (Coxiella burnetti).
The mechanism of exposure is not stated in the records released; but the Samuel lab conducts aerosol challenges of pigs and other studies with the Q Fever bacteria.
"It is apparent that brucella was only the beginning of Texas A&M's problems." says Sunshine Project Director Edward Hammond, "A&M's infection of its staff and students with bioweapons agents and its serial violations of the Select Agent Rule demand law enforcement. If the US government fails to severely sanction Texas A&M, then the Select Agent Rule might as well be tossed in the trash can." Adds Hammond, "Unpunished, Texas A&M's impunity reduces Bioterrorism Act to mere half-hearted suggestion, rather than the law of the land. Congress surely did not intend biology professors to consider law to prevent bioterrorism optional."
What prompted the infected individuals to visit the hospital is not stated in the documents received by the Sunshine Project. Yet three individuals from the same lab visited the hospital at the same time and had the same tests for a very unusual pathogen performed.Circumstances strongly suggest a lab accident that led the researchers to suspect (correctly) that had become infected.
According to the A&M records, upon learning of the infections, the main action of the biosafety officer was to report the accident to the co-chairs of the Texas A&M Institutional Biosafety Committee, who include Thomas Ficht, the professor responsible for the researcher who contracted Brucella in February 2006.