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Thursday December 13 10:41 AM ET

U.S. Army Has Anthrax Strain

WASHINGTON (AP) - For years, U.S. Army scientists in Utah have been developing a powdered form of anthrax for use in testing biological defense systems.

The Army said in a statement that small quantities of anthrax have routinely been produced at Dugway Proving Ground, about 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, and then shipped to the Army's biodefense center at Fort Detrick, Md.

The bacteria was then rendered harmless through radiation before being returned to Dugway for experiments.

The Army statement did not specify which strain of anthrax was produced there, but The Washington Post, citing government officials and shipping records, reported that the finely ground weapons-grade anthrax spores belong to the strain found in letters discovered in recent months.

The Ames strain is relatively common and is used in numerous American labs, and there is no evidence Dugway material was used in the attacks.

Anthrax can be produced in various forms, but the most dangerous is a powder form that can float freely and be easily inhaled into the lungs.

The Army statement said researchers there have worked with anthrax since 1992, turning small amounts of wet anthrax into powder to test ways to defend against biowarfare.

Until the latest anthrax threat, Dugway scientists sent anthrax samples by FedEx to Fort Detrick in a wet paste form to minimize the danger of a spill or accident, the Army statement said.

``Anthrax in paste form cannot be the source of contamination for the anthrax letters mailed after Sept. 11, and Dugway has never shipped any dry anthrax by commercial carrier,'' it said.

The Army added that all the anthrax its scientists have developed has been accounted for and the researchers are cooperating with the FBI (news - web sites) in its investigation. It said all shipments were made in accordance with federal law.

Though the United States has signed an international treaty banning the use of biological weapons, small quantities may be tested for research. Army scientists have previously acknowledged making wet anthrax.

Five fatal inhalation anthrax cases have been reported since tainted letters first appeared earlier this fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) has confirmed 18 cases of exposure, 11 inhalation and 7 through the skin.


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