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You are here:  HOME  >  What's New  >  EPA awards AFRRI scientists with highest honor

New handbook guides
medical decisions in a
radiological emergency

Dept. of Homeland Security
medical experts visit AFRRI

Ceremony welcomes
new AFRRI director

Unprecedented growth marks
AFRRI director's tenure

NRC Commissioner
tours AFRRI

Special assignment:
The Vancouver Olympics

American Nuclear Society
unveils historic-landmark plaque

Historic landmark plaque
to be installed at defense lab

AFRRI receives historic
award from American
Nuclear Society

Iraq researchers
tour AFRRI

AFRRI awarded nuclear
historic landmark status

AFRRI leaders, other research
reactor experts convene
at annual conference

Research pioneer
touched lives, influenced
future of radiation science

Former AFRRI
scientific director was
pioneer in radiation research

Researchers share latest
radiation-effects findings
with military medical community

AFRRI scientific director
elected to NCRP

Scientists deliberate
on diagnostics for
partial-body irradiation

New software to aid
treatment decisions during
radiation exposure incidents

International experts on
radiation exposure assessment
to convene at AFRRI

Ceremony marks change
of director at AFRRI

FDA clears 5-AED for
human clinical studies

New collaboration
will develop radiation

Training for the unthinkable

AFRRI employees participate
in MASCAL drill

EPA awards AFRRI scientists
with highest honor

DoD commends AFRRI
for response to terrorism

Ceremony welcomes
new AFRRI director

Revised handbook expands
casualty management

Peer review validates
AFRRI research of
measuring radioprotection
by liquid chromatography

MEIR course available
on handy card-size disc

AFRRI launches software
for radiation casualty

Chernobyl liquidators'
teeth may link radiation
dose and disease

Individual exposure
takes heat in
radiation study

Russian scientists take
different path in search
for radioprotectors

EPA awards AFRRI scientists with highest honor

Dr. Thomas B. Elliott (left) and Dr. Michael O. Shoemaker
Photo: D. Morse (AFRRI)
The Environmental Protection Agency awarded its highest honor to AFRRI research microbiologists Thomas B. Elliott, PhD, (above, left) and Michael O. Shoemaker, PhD, for their work to help inactivate deadly anthrax spores from a Washington, DC, postal facility.

BETHESDA, Md., Aug. 27, 2004—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in April awarded its prestigious Gold Medal for Exceptional Service to two research microbiologists at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI). Both served as part of a 19-member crisis-exemption team that evaluated methods used to inactivate deadly Bacillus anthracis spores contaminating a huge Washington, DC, U.S. Postal Service processing and distribution center. Two employees at that center died in 2001 after inhaling spores from contaminated letters.

Thomas B. Elliott, PhD, and Michael O. Shoemaker, PhD, members of AFRRI’s Radiation Infection Treatment Research Team, were the only Department of Defense employees honored by the Environmental Protection Agency during 2004 with the agency’s highest honor. They were recognized for "extraordinary contributions to the safe and effective inactivation of anthrax spores contaminating the U.S. Postal Service Brentwood Processing and Distribution Center."

According to media reports, on or about October 12, 2001, two envelopes containing highly refined and deadly spores of B. anthracis, the bacterial species that causes the disease of anthrax, passed through the Brentwood facility. Inhaled spores from both envelopes infected four postal employees with anthrax, and two died within days. Later, the letters were delivered to the U.S. Capitol's Hart Senate Office Building and were part of a spate of anthrax-tainted mail sent to government officials and media outlets in Washington, Florida, and New York.

Occurring a month after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, contamination of the nation's mail system with anthrax-causing spores heightened fears of terrorist attacks. As of November 21, 2001, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 18 confirmed cases, 5 suspected cases, and a total of 5 people killed by anthrax in 2001—the first confirmed deaths in more than two decades.

The Brentwood center was decontaminated with the same technology used earlier at the Senate building—fumigation with chlorine dioxide gas (ClO2). According to Dr. Shoemaker, use of ClO2, itself highly lethal, was complicated by the size of the Brentwood facility (633,000 square feet); by the need to maintain a precise concentration of the gas, relative humidity, and temperature within the huge space for at least 12 hours; and by the proximity of neighborhood residents.

Before the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and its contractors could use ClO2 on such a massive scale, Dr. Shoemaker explained, a crisis exemption had to be obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency, which previously had not authorized ClO2 for use as a fumigant against B. anthracis spores. The agency formed its Brentwood Post Office Anthrax Crisis Exemption Team, drawing experts in many disciplines from within and from other federal agencies, including AFRRI. From June to December 2002, the EPA reviewed many technical plans proposed to inactivate the spores while ensuring public safety.

The 19-member team grappled with unprecedented scientific issues: how to determine the nature and extent of B. anthracis contamination; how to set correct fumigation parameters allowing for temperature, relative humidity, gas concentration, and contact time; how to monitor inside the building to ensure that fumigation parameters were met; and how to do extensive air and surface sampling after fumigation to confirm the absence of all viable spores.

The center reopened on Dec. 22, 2003, having been closed since Oct. 21, 2001. It was renamed the Curseen-Morris Mail Processing and Distribution Center at a ceremony to honor Joseph Curseen Jr. (47) and Thomas Morris Jr. (55), the two postal workers who were killed in this terrorist action.