Russia ‘in danger of re-releasing deadly anthrax spores’ leaked from lab in 1979

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Russia is in danger of re-releasing deadly anthrax spores that notoriously leaked from a clandestine biological weapons lab four decades ago, experts claim.

The case, covered up by the Soviet authorities, officially led to the deaths of at least 66 people, but many suspect the true total ran into the hundreds or even thousands.

Contaminated cattle from this germ warfare anthrax outbreak were buried around the city of Sverdlovsk – now Yekaterinburg.

Planning permission was recently granted for the residential development of a townhouse village close to one of the mass burials, prompting fears that spores from the lethal bio-weapon anthrax could be re-released.

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The decision has led to protests amid fears the zombie disease lying dormant in poisoned ground could be dug up and spread afresh in the air.

The 1979 incident was the deadliest outbreak of inhalation anthrax known in history, and the new threat has been highlighted by Mash online media.

Veterinary expert Yevgeny Tsyplenkov warned: "Anthrax is a very contagious disease….its spores can be active for up to 500 years."

His colleague Mikhail Shelyakov said: "Accidentally disturbing the anthrax cattle burial truly represents a big biological threat… If we disturb these spores, they start growing on anything.

"If a cattle burial is accidentally disturbed, very thorough biological studies are necessary.

"And if there is a tiniest indication the spores are active, construction should be halted."

Building at the site in Rudny village was blocked in 2010, with a court ruling that no home should be constructed less than one kilometre (0.62 mile) from the mass cattle grave.

"Human infection is possible through contact with contaminated soil," stated the court ruling.

But the new housing development is much closer, with rules relaxed to permit building a mere 100 ft away despite the risk of soil disturbance reawakening the zombie anthrax.

The 1979 leak was blamed by the Soviets on tainted meat, and the USSR even sent scientists to the US with "proof" to convince a sceptical West, where intelligence reports suggested 1,000 or more had died.

In fact, a top secret underground laboratory known only as Compound 19 was engaged on weaponizing anthrax, flouting the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.

This was finally admitted in 1992 by Russia's first post-communist president Boris Yeltsin, who had been Sverdlovsk party boss, acknowledging "our military research caused the outbreak".

A technician had spilled anthrax material and, in panic, turned on a ventilation system which spewed the disease into an airborne cloud outside the weapons' research plant close to a ceramics factory which especially hit Chkalovsky neighbourhoods downwind of the leak.

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Other versions say there was an explosion or a faulty air filter was to blame.

"People died on the street, at home, at work," said environmental official Sergei Volkov.

The military grade anthrax caused high fevers and profuse internal bleeding.

The victims were killed in agony from inhalation – not intestinal – anthrax after breathing in spores.

Men were three times as likely to die as women, with children not among the victims, said medics.

This led to a theory that the military anthrax – far more potent than the natural disease – had been specifically engineered to attack males as a weapon of war.

Children born after the outbreak had high rates of congenital problems with impaired physical growth and intellectual development, it was claimed.

Among the dead were five KGB investigators sent to probe the outbreak.

  • Military
  • Russia

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