Bio-Lab Accidents (2011)

BIOTERRORBIBLE.COM: Totally inexcusable lab “accidents”  have been occurring at BSL Labs (biosafety level labs) within the United States and around the world. Should a bio-terror pandemic arise, it is possible that a lab “accident” may serve as the scapegoat and source of the deadly pathogen.

Title: University Of Chicago Microbiologist Infected From Possible Lab Accident
Date: September 12, 2011
Source: Sciene Mag

Abstract: Another laboratory-acquired infection may have occurred in a University of Chicago building where 2 years ago a researcher contracted plague and later died. Late last month, a researcher who worked in the same general lab area was hospitalized with a skin infection caused by a common bacterium being studied in her lab.

The researcher became infected with Bacillus cereus, which can cause food-borne infections, while working on a project headed by microbiologist Olaf Schneewind, according to the university. She was hospitalized on 27 August; after receiving surgery and antibiotics, she was released. In her lab, where B. cereus was studied in biosafety-level 2 conditions (on the lower end of four biosafety levels), the university suspended research to decontaminate the area as a precautionary measure (it was expected to open later this week).

The researcher was likely exposed through an open wound. The university is still investigating whether she acquired the infection in the lab, said University of Chicago Medical Center spokesperson Lorna Wong. B. cereus is not contagious as long as standard procedures such as good hand-washing hygiene are followed, but family members and co-workers were screened for infection risk and some were offered precautionary antibiotics.

Two years ago, a researcher who worked in the same area in the Cummings Life Science Center, geneticist Malcolm Casadaban, a co-principal investigator with Schneewind, died after becoming infected with a weakened strain of the Yersinia pestis bacterium that was not thought to infect healthy adults. According to a report in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, Casadaban may have become sick because he had hemochromatosis, or an overload of iron in the body. The Y. pestis strain had been weakened by making it less able to acquire iron, and the excess iron in Casadaban's body might have allowed it to be become more virulent, the MMWR report says.

That report said Casadaban, who was known to use gloves inconsistently, may have become infected through dermal exposure—possibly the same exposure route as the researcher infected with B. cereus. The university said that Chicago's public health department has visited the campus and reviewed the lab's safety procedures.

Neither case involved a select agent—a pathogen on CDC's list of potential agents in a biological attack. (Although Y. pestis is on the list, the strain Casadaban studied was excluded.) But Schneewind also directs the Great Lakes Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research, a consortium funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to study select agents and natural threats. The center does some of its work at a major biosafety level-3 lab on the campus of Argonne National Laboratory, one of a dozen such regional biocontainment labs built partly with NIAID funding after the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Schneewind did not respond to an e-mail this morning seeking comment.

Updated on 13 September: Today ScienceInsider discussed the incident with Conrad Gilliam, University of Chicago dean for research and graduate education in the biological sciences division. Gilliam said that Olaf Schneewind's group was studying B. cereus in a BSL-2 facility using BSL-3 practices, such as a biosafety cabinet, as a precaution. The infected researcher wasn't working on B. cereus but may have touched her gloved hand to a drop of inoculant spilled by another researcher, then touched a wound on her skin that wasn't properly covered, Gilliam said. The university is having B. cereus samples sequenced to verify that the strain she was infected with was acquired in the lab.

The university is concerned that the B. cereus accident follows the 2009 plague infection, Gilliam said. "The fact that there have been two serious incidents [involving] individuals, we take that very seriously. It doesn't matter if it was a statistical fluke or not." As a precaution during the decontamination and university's inquiry, Schneewind is moving work on B. cereus and some other BSL-2 pathogens that his team had been studying using BSL-3 practices from the Cummings building to the off-campus Ricketts BSL-3 facility.

Once the move and decontamination of Cummings labs are complete, "We'll seriously sit down to retraining, retooling, rethinking" biosafety procedures, Gilliam says. He added that he is responding to queries about the incident so that Schneewind can focus on moving four researchers and their projects to the off-site lab (Science Mag, 2011)

Title: Chemical Released During Fort Detrick Drilling Non-Hazardous
Date: November 22, 2011
Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: According to a Fort Detrick attorney, preliminary testing has revealed that the release of a chemical during well drilling at the Army installation last week was not enough to be hazardous.

Well drillers at the base, located near Frederick, Md., stopped work on Nov. 16 after detecting an odor that turned out to be tetracholoroethene, known as PCE, which is used commonly as a dry-cleaning solvent. Air and water samples were sent to an independent laboratory by the drilling contractor, according Robert Sperling, a Fort Detrick spokesman, reports.

“It’s no big deal,” Gary Zolyak, a Fort Detrick attorney, said, according to “The smell did not make it more than 10 feet from the well, and did not go beyond the property line.”

As part of the cleanup effort, a contractor was drilling a monitoring well in a landfill at Area B-11, a part of the base that served for decades as the dumping ground for chemical, biological and radiological waste. PCE and tricholoroethene found in groundwater on and off base in 1992 were identified as above the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act maximum contaminant levels. Waste in the landfill includes animal refuse, acids, chemicals, metals, wood, herbicides, insecticides, phosgene and animals potentially contaminated with anthrax.

“There is no reason to suspect anything about it was dangerous, but the information gives the impression that something was wrong,” William Hudson, a community involvement coordinator for the EPA, said according to

Workers sealed the well at 150 feet, 200 feet short of their goal, and started drilling another approximately 30 feet away. Sperling said that he notified the public because the fort wanted residents to know what was happening in case they saw workers donning respiratory equipment.

“We didn’t want people to be alarmed,” Sperling said, according to
(Bio Prep Watch, 2011).