NEW YORK (AP) — The head of the government lab that potentially exposed workers to live anthrax has resigned, an agency spokesman said Wednesday.
Michael Farrell was head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab since 2009. He submitted his resignation Tuesday, the spokesman said.
Farrell declined interview requests, said the spokesman, Tom Skinner.
Farrell was reassigned following an incident last month at an Atlanta lab that handles bioterrorism agents. The lab was supposed to completely kill anthrax samples before sending them to two other CDC labs that had fewer safeguards. But the higher-security lab did not completely sterilize the bacteria.
Dozens of CDC workers were potentially exposed to anthrax. No one got sick. But an internal investigation found serious safety lapses, including use of an unapproved sterilization technique and use of a potent type of anthrax in an experiment that did not require a live form of the germ.
Skinner declined to answer questions about what blame has been placed on Farrell in the events that led to the error. He also did not say whether Farrell was asked to resign.
The CDC fell under a harsh spotlight following the incident and the subsequent disclosure of another safety breach at the agency's vaunted influenza laboratory. In that incident, relatively harmless bird flu virus was accidentally contaminated with a much deadlier strain. The contaminated virus was then sent to a lab run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The contamination was discovered in May, but the incident was not reported to CDC's top management until last week.
No one has been reported infected. But CDC Director Tom Frieden has said the second incident was particularly worrisome because flu, unlike anthrax, is a germ that can potentially spread easily from person to person.
Frieden said the two incidents forced agency officials to recognize that a number of safety lapses — which had been treated as isolated accidents — were actually signs of systemic safety problems in the CDC laboratories that handle dangerous germs.
Frieden closed the anthrax and flu labs, halted exports from other high-level labs, and kicked off an analysis that is to include appointment of an external panel of experts.
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Despite widespread drought in the West, wildfires have burned less than half the 10-year average area so far this summer.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said Wednesday that largely has been a matter of luck, with the hot, windy weather known as "red flag" days not lining up with the lighting strikes that start fires, particularly in California.
But he says that is changing. Eighteen large fires are burning in the Northwest with intensities not normally seen until August.
Firefighters on Wednesday were chasing 25 new fires ignited by thunderstorms moving across Northern California, Oregon and Washington.
Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report warning climate change is contributing to bigger and longer fire seasons, and new homes in forests are driving up firefighting costs.
The price of oil rose Wednesday after the government reported that U.S. oil supplies rose more than expected.
The benchmark U.S. oil contract for September delivery gained 73 cents to $103.12 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude for September delivery, a benchmark for international oils, rose 70 cents to $108.03 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
The Energy Department reported that U.S. oil supplies fell by 4 million barrels last week, a sharper decline than the 2.6 million barrels expected by analysts surveyed by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Financial.
On the geopolitical front, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Tel Aviv, seeking to renew a push for a cease-fire after an earlier proposal by Egypt was rejected. Israeli troops battled Hamas militants near a southern Gaza Strip town even as Kerry reported some progress in his efforts.
In other Nymex trading:
— Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $2.86 a gallon.
— Heating oil rose 2 cents to $2.875 a gallon.
— Natural gas fell 1 cent to $3.76 per 1,000 cubic feet.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — An 89-year-old Nazi war crimes suspect died in custody hours before a U.S. ruling Wednesday that he should be extradited to Germany to face trial.
Johann Breyer died Tuesday night at a Philadelphia hospital, where he had been transferred Saturday after a month in jail, his lawyer and the U.S. Marshals Service said. His death was disclosed Wednesday just as U.S. Magistrate Timothy Rice approved the extradition request, which would still have needed final U.S. government review.
Rice found probable cause that Breyer was the person being sought by German authorities over his suspected service as an SS guard at Auschwitz during World War II.
"No statute of limitations offers a safe haven for murder," he wrote in his ruling.
U.S. marshals had arrested Breyer in June outside his longtime home in Philadelphia. He was facing charges of aiding in the killing of 216,000 Jewish men, women and children at a Nazi death camp.
"As outlined by Germany, a death camp guard such as Breyer could not have served at Auschwitz during the peak of the Nazi reign of terror in 1944 without knowing that hundreds of thousands of human beings were being brutally slaughtered in gas chambers and then burned on site," Rice wrote.
"A daily parade of freight trains delivered hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, most of whom simply vanished overnight. Yet, the screams, the smells, and the pall of death permeated the air. The allegations establish that Breyer can no longer deceive himself and others of his complicity in such horror," the judge said.
Breyer claimed he was unaware of the massive slaughter at Auschwitz and then that he did not participate in it, but "the German allegations belie his claims," the judge wrote.
Breyer died at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, according to his lawyer, Dennis Boyle, and the Marshals Service. The lawyer said Breyer's health had deteriorated in jail but he didn't know the cause of death.
German authorities in the Bavarian town of Weiden issued a 2013 warrant charging Breyer with accessory to murder under the theory that the death camp's sole function was to kill people.
The same legal strategy had been used to charge and convict former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk on charges he served as a death camp guard at Sobibor in occupied Poland. Demjanjuk died in a Bavarian nursing home in 2012 while appealing his 2011 conviction.
The 2013 warrant accused Breyer of 158 counts of accessory to murder — one count for each trainload of victims brought to the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland from May to October 1944, when he was allegedly a guard there.
"It is particularly unfortunate that Breyer could not be brought to justice in view of the significant efforts that were invested in trying to hold him accountable for his service at the Auschwitz death camp," said Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. "This setback should in no way discourage or hamper the efforts to bring other perpetrators to justice at this time."
Breyer told The Associated Press in a 2012 interview that while he was a guard at Auschwitz, he was assigned to a part of the camp that was not involved in the slaughter of Jews and others.
"I didn't kill anybody, I didn't rape anybody — and I don't even have a traffic ticket here," he said. "I didn't do anything wrong."
Breyer moved to Philadelphia after World War II and for decades lived a quiet, middle-class life with his wife, children and grandchildren. He had American citizenship because his mother was born in the U.S.; she later moved to Europe, where Breyer was born.
In 1992, the U.S. government tried to revoke Breyer's citizenship after discovering his wartime background. The effort became a yearslong legal saga and appeared to end with a 2003 decision that found Breyer had joined the SS as a minor and could therefore not be held legally responsible for participating in it.
Then he was arrested last month outside his home in northeast Philadelphia based on the German warrant. Officials say the arrest was delayed for a year because of the complexity of the extradition request.
His lawyers had unsuccessfully argued that Breyer should remain at home pending the extradition hearing because of his frail health. They said he has mild dementia, heart conditions and has suffered strokes in recent years.
Rice initially ruled that the federal prison system was capable of caring for Breyer, although he reversed himself Monday after what he called the "emergency hospitalization" and granted bail.
Breyer's wife and survivors could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. Messages left at his home were not immediately returned.
"This hurts. This hurts the families of the victims. This hurts anyone who is interested in justice," Zuroff said.