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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Osan Air Base inspected in anthrax case

Officials from the South Korea-U.S. joint working group conduct an on-site inspection of a laboratory at Osan Air Base, Gyeonggi Province, Thursday, about 70 days after the Pentagon admitted that live anthrax samples were accidently delivered there. / Joint Press Corps

By Jun Ji-hye

The South Korea-U.S. joint working group (JWG) visited the United States Forces Korea's (USFK) Osan Air Base in Gyeonggi Province, Thursday, in its investigation of the mistaken delivery of live anthrax samples to a laboratory there.

It was the first joint on-site inspection since the Pentagon announced in May that it had accidently sent live anthrax samples to labs across the United States as well as other nations, including Korea, from its chemical weapons testing site in Utah.

"The team will check how the samples were brought in, and how they were handled and destroyed," an official from the Ministry of National Defense told reporters, asking not to be named.

Toward that end, air base officers who participated in the testing at the time of the incident gave a demonstration of how they examined and destroyed the samples, the ministry said.

Korean officials also checked if the materials that the U.S. previously submitted corresponded with what happened at the laboratory.

USFK officials explained that the lab personnel destroyed all the samples in accordance with established procedures.

Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hedelund, USFK assistant chief of staff for policy and plans who heads the U.S. side of the joint team, said, "This joint working group will continue to ensure reliability and transparency of the ROK-U.S. capabilities to defend the Republic of Korea."

He added, "I am confident that this JWG will build on the progress we have made as an alliance since the date of the incident."

The ministry official noted that the team did not set a limit on the number and the period of on-site inspections.

"Whenever we have doubtful points, we will ask the U.S. side for relevant material," he told reporters.

The allies set up the team on July 11 to investigate the mistaken shipment of the hazardous material.

A U.S. Defense Department report released last month confirmed that 86 American and foreign labs had received the anthrax spores, which were not completely inactive.

According to the USFK, 22 military and civilian personnel were exposed to the lethal bacteria in May, but none showed signs of infection.

Follow Jun Ji-hye on Twitter @TheKopJihye


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