In a display of corporate negligence, it was revealed that GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) dumped 12 gallons of live polio virus into a river in Belgium on September 2nd.
The announcement was made by Belgium’s Institute of Public Health (WIV-ISP).
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the polio virus results in paralysis of the limbs in less than 1% of cases of infection, the risk of paralysis increasing with age. Infected persons that do not go on to display any symptoms can still infect others, however.
Transmission of polio most often occurs person-to-person via contact with the stool of an infected person, but in this case, individuals could contract the virus from swimming and fishing activities.
Due to high rates of polio vaccinations in Belgium, risk to the public was said to be limited. Additionally, the river involved flows to a water treatment plant which does not supply drinking water, which would also limit the potential risk.
GSK representatives stated that the contaminated water was mistakenly released during a vaccine production process, but no further explanation was given.
Risk analysis of the accidental release conducted by the WIV-ISP concluded that members of the public such as swimmers, fishers, etc. were all at very limited risk of infection, whereas the higher-risk water treatment employees were given polio vaccinations. The organization further indicated that individuals should avoid contact with waters of the Lasne river, downstream of the treatment plant.
As an ongoing measure of precaution, sludge samples from the treatment plant will be taken periodically for signs of the virus.
Increased concern was displayed by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) because of the fact that the release will eventually connect with waterways passing through an area of the Netherlands with high population and low vaccination rates.
GSK has had a number of other poor press events over the recent years, including the leak in 2012 of a confidential internal document that revealed 36 infant deaths as a result of the company’s Ifanrix Hexa shot. That leak also showed that there were over 1,700 other instances of adverse effects related to the shot, with over 500 considered extremely serious.