After discovering an unauthorised collection of smallpox vials that had been collecting dust in a cold storage room for decades in July, the National Institutes of Health began a safety sweep to check and see what other deadly pathogens might be sitting in the backs of lab fridges around their facilities.
The news was announced in an agency memo first reported by the Associated Press on September 5.
These samples have been around for a while, as most were found in various labs or on shelves with historical collections. The box containing the poisonous ricin dates back to 1914, with the poison itself estimated to be 85 to 100 years old.
While these substances are definitely dangerous — in 2013, the Secret Service intercepted an envelope containing ricin that was sent to the president — their discovery isn’t as scary as the finding of the smallpox vials that inspired this apparently long-needed cleaning in the first place.
People haven’t received smallpox vaccinations in the U.S. since it was considered eliminated in 1972. It’s a disease dangerous enough to be considered a potential biological weapon and infectious enough that only two labs in the world are authorised to possess it.
These substances are also far less frightening than some of the flu viruses being studied and created in certain labs in the U.S. and around the world.
According to the NIH, the recently discovered agents were sealed when found and never posed a threat to anyone in the building.
The NIH destroyed the unauthorised toxin and pathogens.
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