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A National Research Council committee says it has a “high degree of confidence” that appropriate protections for workers and the public are in place at the Army’s Fort Detrick, Md., biodefense laboratories. In a report requested by Congress, however, the committee found several problems in the environmental impact statement prepared by the Army for its expansion of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. For example, the impact statement estimated the effects of potential mishaps at the facilities, including “maximum credible event” scenarios where Ebola virus and the bacteria that cause Q fever are released from an exhaust stack. But the committee could not verify the estimate that such an event would lead to insignificant ground concentrations of the pathogens and would not pose a hazard to the nearby community. Still, the panel concludes that current overall safety procedures and regulations at the labs meet or exceed accepted standards.
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