Issue Date: July 21, 2014 | Web Date: July 17, 2014
CDC Closes Labs, Stops Shipments
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has closed influenza and anthrax research sites and halted all biological materials shipments from its highest level containment labs following safety breaches that endangered dozens of employees.
CDC’s actions came earlier this month after a report showed that a safety breach in June put employees at risk of contracting anthrax, although none has shown signs of illness. The agency also identified a separate incident where a sample contaminated with the highly contagious avian flu virus H5N1 was shipped without proper precautions.
“The CDC is supposed to be the gold standard in the U.S. public health system, and it has been tarnished,” Rep. Timothy F. Murphy (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations said at a hearing last week. The recent incidents “have raised very serious questions about the CDC’s ability to safeguard properly select agents in its own labs.”
The internal anthrax report says CDC scientists failed to follow written laboratory safety plans. The labs also did not have adequate oversight of scientists or clear guidelines for determining when a biological agent was inactivated and safe for transport. A second report from a Department of Agriculture inspector revealed additional safety shortfalls. USDA has expertise working with dangerous biological materials and serves as CDC’s outside lab inspector.
CDC’s Bioterrorism Rapid Response & Advanced Technology and influenza research laboratories will remain closed until they are deemed safe. In addition, CDC’s highest level containment laboratories will not be able to transfer any materials, internally or externally, until a CDC advisory committee has completed its review of safety procedures.
The agency has appointed an individual who will be accountable for lab safety, CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden says. It will also establish an independent advisory committee and create a rapid response team for future incidents.
Frieden expressed frustration and dismay about the incident. The American people “may be wondering whether we’re doing what we need to do to keep them safe and to keep our workers safe,” he says. “I’m disappointed by what happened and, frankly, I’m angry about it.”
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