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Safety

NIH Finds More Forgotten Deadly Agents

by Britt E. Erickson
September 15, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 37

NIH officials uncovered more improperly stored vials of deadly pathogens and the toxin ricin during a recent safety sweep of the agency’s facilities, NIH Director Francis S. Collins said in a Sept. 5 memo to employees. The search was conducted after forgotten vials of smallpox were discovered in an FDA lab on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., in July. “All of the agents found were in sealed and intact containers and there were no personnel exposures associated with the storage or discovery of these vials or samples,” Collins wrote in the memo. The agents include Burkholderia pseudomallei, the cause of an uncommon bacterial infection called melioidosis; Francisella tularensis, the cause of tularemia; Yersinia pestis, the cause of plague; botulinum neurotoxin, the cause of botulism; and a vial of ricin thought to be 85 to 100 years old. The findings highlight “the need for constant vigilance in monitoring laboratory materials in compliance with federal regulations on biosafety,” Collins said. In a related move, FDA announced on Sept. 5 that it had discovered improperly stored samples of staphylococcal enterotoxin, which causes food poisoning.

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