Biohazard lab supervision an issue says US investigation

Friday, October 5, 2007

An electron micrograph of the Ebola virus.

According to recent investigations by the Associated Press and Congressional investigations, the United States federal government is not properly handling serious biohazards such as Ebola in labs. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks the United States has increased by a factor of over 40 the funding for research related to potential biological weapons as well as other virulent infectious diseases, such as Anthrax, Ebola and Smallpox. Since 2003, there have been at least 100 incidents involving United States laboratories. These incidents have ranged from missing shipments of deadly viruses and bacteria to accidents in which lab workers have become infected. According to the Congressional panel even where research is going on is not precisely known.

The recent investigations were prompted in part by the suspension of research at Texas A&M University after repeated laboratory accidents and failure to report serious breaches to the Center for Disease Control including an incident in which someone was infected with brucellosis, a disease which can infect humans and a variety of domesticated animals and is generally not fatal in humans. Concern about safety and security procedures focus primarily on two risks: terrorists obtaining biological agents from laboratories or labs accidentally releasing infectious agents into the general population.

Critics have questioned the influx of new research as being unnecessary, unguided and dangerous both to workers and to the people around them and have pointed to the case of Janet Parker who was the last recorded case of someone dying from smallpox and had contracted the disease by working in a building with poor containment systems.