JFD: E. Coli vials found in Jonesboro apartment

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The Jonesboro fire department is still investigating the discovery of 25 vials marked "E. Coli" in the refrigerator of a vacated apartment in Jonesboro Friday.

Arkansas State University assistant professor Bill Payne said the use of E. coli in hospitals, laboratories and classrooms for quality control and learning purposes is essential. "In order to determine whether or not a particular antibiotic is going to work we have to perform what is referred to as susceptibility testing, determining whether or not the organism is going to be susceptible to the antibiotic," he said.

Payne said a genetically modified version of E. Coli can be used to clean up the environment. "They're using it to remove heavy metals that have contaminated water sources or ground water or soil, things like mercury or cadmium."

However, Payne said, there are few uses for the bacterium outside of a controlled environment.

"For a private citizen to have it, I can't think of any reason why he would have it, and why you would keep it in the refrigerator is even more baffling because you just don't keep bacteria in your refrigerator with your food. It's a good way of getting your food contaminated."

Jonesboro Assistant Fire Chief Alan Dunn said he expects test results this week from the Arkansas Department of Health that will determine the specific strain of E. Coli, and whether it is a pathogenic strain that causes disease.

Payne said pinpointing the type of E. Coli could help in figuring out why it was used and how it was obtained.

"A private citizen would find it very difficult to get that, and that's mainly because of the problem that we have now with security bioterrorism agents."

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Jonesboro firefighters responded to a call Friday afternoon from the maintenance supervisor at the Willow Creek Apartments. He had made a startling discovery in a refrigerator of a recently vacated apartment.

Jonesboro Assistant Fire Chief Alan Dunn said that when his crews arrived on the scene they found 25 vials marked "E-Coli". Dunn said the area was immediately closed off, the Craighead County Office of Emergency Management was notified and the Haz-Mat team was brought in.

Dunn said initial tests by firefighters showed no contamination. The 61st Combat Support Team from Little Rock was brought in for more sophisticated testing. They too found no trace of contamination.  The E. Coli was likely used to treat heavy metals in the body like mercury or lead.

A tenant recently moved out and apparently left the vials in the fridge.  Dunn said from what they understand the people that lived in the apartment were from outside the United States.

The property manager issued a vague letter to residents of the complex telling them they were in no danger.

Additional testing on the bacteria will be done by the Arkansas Health Department.  The FBI was also called in to investigate the incident.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.