Date: November 5, 2010
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: A white powder feared to be anthrax that was discovered in an envelope sent to a state office building near the Georgia Capitol has been confirmed to not be hazardous.
The envelope was sent on Tuesday to the James H. Sloppy Floyd Building, AJC.com reports. Upon discovery, authorities evacuated part of the complex. Four people who were exposed to the substance who had minor complaints were later treated..
Authorities at the scene said that the powder did not appear to be related to a chemical or biological threat.
As there was not enough of the substance for an immediate identification, the sample was sent to the FBI crime lab for analysis, AJC.com reports. Gordy Wright, a spokesman for the Georgia State Patrol, said that the investigation of the package will continue.
According to a recent Medill National Security Journalism Initiative report, there have been over 38,000 hazardous postal-related situations since the 2001 anthrax attacks. Even if the powder is a hoax and is comprised of flour or talcum powder, postal inspectors investigate the issue. Those who send the misleading package are subject to prison time or fines. Since 2001, 300 postal inspectors have been trained as hazard specialists.
“Historically, it’s been the Postal Inspectors’ mission to protect postal services, its employees and to secure the nation’s mail,” Peter Rendina, assistant inspector of the Washington Division of the Postal Inspection Service, said, Medillnsj.org reports. “We’re continuing to do what’s needed” (Bio Prep Watch, 2010).
Title: Georgia Tests Drive Through Anthrax Vaccine Dispensing
Date: January 6, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: The Columbia County Emergency and Operations Division and other health workers in Columbia County, Georgia, plan to test a method of dispensing life-saving vaccines and other medicines that allows people to stay within their vehicles.
The exercise is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on January 22 at Groveton High School, and will test the medical workers to see if they are capable of vaccinating 900 people against anthrax, according to NewsTimes.Augusta.com.
The event will utilize large tents that were bought last year with Georgia Department of Health grant money. Drive through stations will be set up at the school on William Few Parkway.
County Health Department Nurse Manager Linda Graves sees a scenario where motorists and their passengers arrive at one station to collect and then fill out paperwork to be dropped off at another station, before driving to a final station to receive the inoculation or other critical medicine.
"The purpose is to get people in and out very quickly, like a drive-through at a restaurant," Graves said, NewsTimes.Augusta.com reports. "We would hope to get them in and out in a few minutes."
With 20 volunteers, Graves expects that around 1,00 people could pass through the stations in a single day.
"Although this exercise focuses on anthrax, these same procedures may be used for numerous types of public health emergencies, including, but not limited to, mass vaccinations during flu pandemics," Emergency and Operations Director Pam Tucker said, according to NewsTimes.Augusta.com (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).Title: Georgia Simulates Anthrax Attack
Date: January 24, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: State and local agencies in Columbia County, Georgia, conducted emergency medical exercises simulating an anthrax attack on January 22 at a local high school.
"We have evaluators, we have observers and we may just have citizens that want to come through and participate," Incident Commander Linda Graves said, according to WJBF.com.
Over 300 volunteers participated in the drill at Grovetown High School, which simulated an outbreak of anthrax. The goal of the event was to train the public health staff in the event of a real life scenario, according to WJBF.com.
"It is extremely important because if we have a biological attack on our area or if we have a pandemic, we need to protect our citizens in our county by medicating them. We can do that by vaccinating them if there's a pandemic,” Graves said, WJBF.com reports.
Participants in the event had to drive through stations while the medical staff distributed medication. The organizers told WJBF.com that drive-through systems are more efficient and more effective. When people stand in line, they potentially expose one another to harmful substances.
"We just need to make sure that the community knows that this is a drill and the purpose of it is to make sure public health is prepared to distribute large quantities of medication in the event of an emergency,” Graves told WJBF.com.
Organizers said that this is the
first drill of its kind undertaken in Columbia County (Bio Prep Watch).
Title: Virgin Islands Conducts WMD Training Exercise
Date: February 10, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: The 23rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team of the Virgin Islands National Guard recently conducted a training exercise in Frederiksted to be prepared to respond to hazard-related emergencies.
The training activity prepared the team to deal with any chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive inside the territory or within the southeast corridor of the United States, including Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Alabama, according to the Virgin Islands Daily News.
The U.S. Army North evaluated the National Guard unit during the training simulation, which began at 4:30 a.m. and lasted throughout the day. Nineteen out of 22 team members participated in the drill in which they needed to identify, assess and give an analysis of the substance they collected.
The scenario included the delivery of a pallet of packages that had an elevated radiological reading on a ship at a pier.
"The culmination of years of training ensures that we meet the marks set forth from other CSTs across the nation,” Maj. Kenneth Alleyne, the 23rd’s unit commander, said, according to the Virgin Islands Daily News. "It is the same standard across the board and we're just as good as every state and territory."
While the team knew it would be participating in the activity, they did not know where it would be located or what the scenario would be.
“All CSTs are top-notch and the V.I.’s are no different,” Lt. Col. Bruce Alzner, of the Army North Civil Support Team Readiness Group, said, the Virgin Islands Daily News reports (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).Title: US Keeping Secret Stash Of Smallpox Viruses At Lab In Georgia To Use For Future Bioweapons
Sorce: Natural News
Abstract: You may have heard that smallpox has long been eradicated but what you may not know is that the United States and Russia still maintain stocks of the disease, and the U.S. is still in the business of researching and developing it. The question is, why?
According to the U.S. government, Washington and Moscow recently supported a decision to keep the two stocks intact, arguing that more research needed to be conducted on one of the world's deadliest diseases. Specifically, researchers say more work is needed in order to come up with a safer version of the vaccine and better treatments for those who are already infected with smallpox.
"In other words," wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in explaining the Obama administration's decision, "we've beaten smallpox once, but we must be ready and prepared to beat it again, if necessary."
While that may sound like a reasonable explanation on the surface, there could be more to it than that. After all, if a disease has been eradicated since 1977, it doesn't sound like there needs to be much more "research" done to combat it - does it?
Consider this: The U.S. military maintains a biohazard research facility at Ft. Detrick, Md., and, according to this report posted on the Centers for Disease Control website, clearly the Pentagon is concerned that weaponized smallpox and other highly contagious and deadly agents could be unleashed on the American people, if not by a national government then by terrorists.
According to the report, the U.S. discontinued its offensive biological weapons research program in 1969, though the former U.S.S.R. continued theirs and eventually produced smallpox virus by the ton, according to the book, "Biohazard," by Ken Alibek. But there appears to be enough evidence to suggest that the U.S. is keeping its samples of smallpox around for the purpose of conducting further research - research that is banned under various treaties and executive orders.
"During the first two decades after the United States ratified the BWC (Biological Weapons Convention), the U.S. Biological Defense Research Program was conducted in a reasonably open manner," says this report by Jonathan B. Tucker, a senior researcher at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
He adds, "Threat-assessment studies and development projects were unclassified and described in detailed annual reports to Congress. During the late 1990s, however, heightened concern over chemical and biological terrorism apparently caused some elements of the U.S. biodefense community to alter this policy. The Pentagon and the intelligence community began to conduct secret threat-assessment studies that clearly exceeded the limits for defensive research specified in the Scowcroft memorandum, but Congress was not informed of the change. Indeed, during the Clinton administration, some classified biodefense work took place even without the full knowledge of the National Security Council staff."
Further, in 2001 - just a week before the 9/11 attacks, The New York Times reported that three secret threat-assessment projects were being conducted by the Defense Department, in conjunction with the U.S. intelligence community. They were called Project Bacchus, Project Jefferson, and Project Clear Vision, each designed to reconstruct a banned bioweapon or mass production facility, and each violated the provisions of bioweapons treaties and agreements to which the U.S. was a party.
And the research is ongoing.
"Today, despite U.S. participation in the BWC, American scientists continue to conduct ongoing research on biological agents," said this PBS report. "Since 2001 the U.S. government has spent or allocated more than $50 billion to address the threat of biological weapons, including an effort to develop an even deadlier strain of the anthrax virus to test against current vaccines. Scientists are also working on vaccines against the smallpox virus, which has been eradicated worldwide since 1980" (Natural News, 2011).
Title: Army Reserve Tests CBRN Preparedness
Date: June 24, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: Army Reserve units have joined forces with emergency responders fin five states to participate in the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear consequence drill known as Exercise Red Dragon 2011.
The exercise began in 2000 in an effort to develop, train and assess the capabilities of Army Reserve forces to be used in the Defense Support of Civilian Authorities. Over 2,000 participants were involved in the drill, which is directed by the Army Reserve Command.
“This year’s exercise involves over 2,000 chemical, medical, logistics and signal Soldiers over several states,” Col. Patricia Carlson, commander of the 415th Chemical Brigade, said. “Our support and our soldiers conducting this exercise come from throughout the United States.”
Red Dragon 11 was conducted in Alabama, Illinois, Georgia, South Carolina and Wisconsin. The exercises prepared soldiers to assist local authorities with large scale disaster that they would not be able to handle on their own.
“The Red Dragon exercise is important because it will give the civilian sector an opportunity to work with Reserve units so we may be able to work together as one unit,” Mary Casey-Lockyer, an emergency preparedness and response coordinator for Northwest Hospital in Arlington Heights, Ill., said.
Soldiers acted as casualties to aid the emergency responders with their preparedness training. Units of the Army Reserve train to maintain a high level of preparedness since they can be called at anytime to serve the nation in a civil or combat capacity.“This exercise is important because it gives Army Reservist and civilian emergency responders an opportunity to unify and work together in the event of any type of catastrophe,” Lt. Col. Timothy Dawson, the commander of the 472nd Chemical Battalion, said. “Preparedness is not just for us, it is for the communities as well" (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).
Title: Escaped Monkey May Not Have Gone Far
Date: June 28, 2011
Abstract: Officials at a Georgia primate research facility said a monkey missing since June 15 may be hiding somewhere in the facility or on the grounds.
Lisa Newbern, spokeswoman at the Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center Field Station in Lawrenceville, said the female rhesus monkey has not been seen by staff since escaping June 15, but there is a strong possibility she is still somewhere nearby, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday.
"Given that she is a social animal and she'd want to be with her family, our focus has now been that she would still be inside the facility," Newbern said.
The 117-acres of land housing the facility neighbors suburban homes and schools including Walnut Grove Elementary School and Collins Hill High School (UPI, 2011).
Title: Georgia Holds Three Day Bioterror Decontamination Course
Date: July 8, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: The Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton, Ga., recently held a three day decontamination trainer course to train personnel in procedures to be used during an emergency biological contamination scenario.
The trainer course instructed 29 participants in Code Orange training techniques, which refers to biological contamination and any type of accident that results in chemical or radiation exposure. The state Department of Public Health and Emergency Preparedness sponsored the event to help local medical centers meet a new state requirement that decontamination teams must be ready to receive their first patient in 20 minutes or less, the Tifton Gazette reports.
“There are 10,000 people in danger at the stadium,” Eddie Senkbeil, the emergency department resource coordinator at Tift Regional Medical Center, said to the trainees at the UGA Conference Center, according to the Tifton Gazette. “There is a white powdery substance that could be anthrax everywhere at the football stadium during the Tift County vs. Valdosta football game. We need help now!”
Brandi Newman, a clinical educator in the ER of TRMC was designated in charge of the hypothetical operation.
“It was a difficult job,” Newman said, according to the Tifton Gazette. “The hardest part for me was keeping up with everyone’s times in-and-out of the suits, but I remained calm, which is what you have to do in that type of situation.”
The course was led by Hot Zone USA, emergency response and Occupational Safety Health Administration training specialists. All 29 participants in the course are now considered trainers who can share the new decontamination methods for a Code Orange with their hospitals and fire departments.
“The purpose of the program is
for the hospitals in the state to come together to learn these new methods so
that it will be possible in the future to train each other on the new methods
that make decontamination easier,” Senkbeil said, according to the Tifton
Gazette. “It is more cost effective that way” (Bio
Prep Watch, 2011).
Title: Search Ends In Gwinnett For Missing Research Monkey
Date: August 22, 2011
Abstract: The search in Gwinnett County for a missing research monkey is over. Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center announced it has ended efforts to locate the animal. Known only as “EP13,” the 2-year-old rhesus macaque was discovered missing on June 15.
“Despite extensive efforts by Yerkes staff, we have not been able to locate this research animal,” Dr. Stuart Zola, director of Yerkes, said in a prepared statement issued last week.
“Efforts included searching the Yerkes property numerous times, conducting multiple census counts of the research animals and working with Gwinnett CountyAnimal Control to follow up on 26 reported ‘sightings’ in the metro Atlanta area,” Zola said.
Zola said he has directed Yerkes staff to continue taking steps to prevent any such future occurrences, including using microchip technology to better track the animals and increasing security and video surveillance at the center.
The center will also pursue any recommendations regulatory authorities may make, he said. Earlier this summer, Yerkes officials met with representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to discuss steps they had taken in the search.
With the search ended, “we are focusing on our research operations at the center and doing things to ensure this would not happen again,” Lisa Newbern, a Yerkes spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview Monday.
If someone should see the monkey, she said, “people are still welcome to give us a call at 404 727-7732, or Gwinnett County Animal Control, 770 339-3200.”
It was hoped that Ep13 could be in or around the 117-acre Primate Research Center, but repeated searches proved fruitless.
Searchers had speculated the monkey fled into the nearby woods, possibly finding shelter in the surrounding Gwinnett suburbs or even going farther, venturing far outside of metro Atlanta. Yerkes has taken calls from people in other counties claiming to have seen her.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on July 5 cited a Georgia Department of Natural Resources report that Yerkes waited five days before notifying authorities of the missing monkey.
The DNR report showed that after identifying that the monkey was missing on June 15, Yerkes staff started an immediate search of its grounds and on June 17 filed an incident report to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the oversight body for university animal testing.
Yerkes contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture three days later, on June 20, and then the DNR on June 22. The last time Yerkes had conducted a full head count of the monkeys was May 26, when the group was being transported within the facility.
The report also said that five days into the search, a Yerkes veterinarian believed the primate might be deceased. The veterinarian speculated the missing monkey had fallen into a crevice and died, or that a hawk had captured it.
Meanwhile, about 20 area residents filed a complaint with Lawrenceville and Gwinnett authorities against the primate research center, saying it did not belong in a residential area because of the threat escaped animals could pose to neighbors.
Operated by Emory University, Yerkes is one of eight federally funded national primate research centers. It keeps a total of about 3,400 primates at a 25-acre campus in Atlanta and the 117-acre field station in Lawrenceville. The field station, which opened in 1966, is home to 1,899 rhesus macaques and 2,220 animals overall (AJC, 2011).Title: Ricin Plot Charges: Four Georgia Men Accused Of Planning Bioterrorism Attack
Date: November 2, 2011
Source: Washington Post
Abstract: Ten years after anthrax spores delivered in letters killed five people, injured 17, and raised fears about the
safety of opening mail, four Georgia men have been charged with plotting to
buy explosives and manufacture a deadly biological toxin: ricin.
The men, all sexagenerians or older, are suspected to be members of a fringe Georgia militia group. They are charged with purchasing explosives and a silencer, and taking steps to produce the toxin.
The specter of bioterrorism, in which bacteria, viruses or toxins like ricin are deliberately released to kill or cause illness, no longer looms as large in America as it did after 9/11. Then, the anthrax-laced mail caused near hysteria.
But scientists say that we shouldn’t be so cavalier, as biological weapons are now easier to make at home than ever before.
After all, the product the four allegedly were producing is a highly toxic protein that is made from castor beans. Compared with anthrax, a much higher quantity of ricin is needed to have a significant impact. Ricin can also be inactivated much more easily than anthrax, which can remain lethal for decades.
But ricin can have a deadly effect if a person comes in direct contact with it, especially if inhaled or digested. There is also no antidote for it, although a victim can be saved by immediate medical attention, during which doctors would try to maintain air flow to the lungs.
In a cover story on Sunday, the New York Times Magazine described a bioterrorism attack this way:
It makes of the most mundane object, death: a doorknob, a handshake, a breath can become poison. Like a nuclear bomb, the biological weapon threatens such a spectacle of horror — skin boiling with smallpox pustules, eyes blackened with anthrax lesions, the rotting bodies of bubonic plagues — that it can seem the province of fantasy or nightmare or, worse, political manipulation.
Brett Giroir, a former director at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, told the magazine that advancements in laboratory technology had made that fantasy much closer to real possibility than ever before.
“What took me three weeks in a sophisticated laboratory in a top-tier medical school 20 years ago, with millions of dollars in equipment, can essentially be done by a relatively unsophisticated technician,” Giroir said.
But the Post’s Checkpoint Washington blog reports that the chances these Goergians could have created a weapon of mass destruction was “tiny at best.”
The chances are tiny because the challenges involved in delivering lethal doses of ricin to mass numbers of people are great, and nearly insurmountable for amateurs. “No one has done it, as far as we know,” Raymond Zilinskas, director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., told Checkpoint. “It is beyond the capabilities of anyone except professional weapons scientists.”
As for bioterrorism by mail, The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports that the Post Office is focused on bigger problems, and that workers are now so unconcerned by the threat of attack that they no longer wear the gloves and masks provided as a precaution.They are trained, however, to be on the lookout for envelopes that appear to contain sharp objects, dust, no return address, an invalid Zip code, or weird writing. The USPS spends $101 million each year to screen every piece of first-class mail sent or received by U.S. households and mail sent to federal addresses in Washington (Washington Post, 2011).
Title: Congress Investigates Air Leak, Possible Safety Lapses At CDC Lab
Date: June 22, 2012
Abstract: It's a highly secured, sophisticated research lab studying deadly diseases such as bird flu, monkeypox, tuberculosis and rabies.
It's in a facility called Building 18, which cost taxpayers $214 million.
And now, the Biosafety Level 3 lab at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is also the subject of a congressional investigation after a potentially dangerous airflow leak at that lab, CNN has learned.
The leak occurred on February 16, when air flowed the wrong way out of a germ lab into a clean-air corridor, rather than through the powerful HEPA filter that cleans the air, congressional sources and CDC officials said. Visitors touring the facility were in the clean corridor when they observed a puff of air being pushed out from the lab through a slot in a door window.
If experiments had been under way at the time of that air leak, experts say, unprotected visitors could have been exposed to deadly germs, although an epidemic would have been unlikely.
According to U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican and a medical doctor, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has asked the CDC for documents about that incident. The request came in the wake of a report on internal CDC e-mails about the incident, first reported by USA Today last week.
"The biggest concern was that there was a contingent of visitors who were walking through the building," Burgess said. "And had one of those people been stricken or made ill or worse, obviously that would have been devastating."
The lab handles small mammals such as rats, ferrets and mice as part of its experiments with pathogens, according to CDC officials. They say animals were in the lab at the time of the air leak, but they were secured in filtered cages.
CDC officials say the lab was clean, was not active at the time, and no one got infected.
"At no time during recent incidents featured in the media were CDC workers or the public in harm's way," agency spokesman Tom Skinner said. "This unique facility features multiple security layers specifically designed to protect workers and the public in the event of an incident."
In a statement released to CNN, Burgess' committee said, "We will actively work to find out if there are additional concerns or incidents associated with Building 18. Any anomaly or breach is of concern, and we will work to ensure the integrity of the facility is maintained and that our scientists are safe."
There has been at least one other safety-related incident in that same building where February's air leak occurred.
In 2008, it was discovered that a high-containment lab door was sealed with duct tape. That incident was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and confirmed to CNN by Skinner.
Robert Hawley, former safety chief at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, said the CDC has many safety layers in place at its labs. Hawley says researchers at the Biosafety Level 3 lab work in biosafety "cabinets" within the lab itself.
"Nothing is handled outside that cabinet," Hawley said. "So they're working with minute amounts of material, and the chances of aerosol are negligible."
But there are questions about a possible cover-up.
In an internal e-mail, reported by USA Today, CDC biologist Kismet Scarborough said the centers "... will do anything ... to hide the fact that we have serious problems with the airflow and containment in this whole building."
CNN has not been able to independently verify that e-mail. But in response, Skinner said, "CDC will continue to take an open, transparent and inclusive approach to address any safety challenge in a manner that will ensure the safety of our workforce and the public."
Skinner said the agency "intends to cooperate fully with Rep. Burgess and the committee to address any questions they may have about Building 18 at CDC" (CNN, 2012).
Title: Biological Hazard In Georgia On Sunday, 24 June, 2012 At 05:02 (05:02
Date: June 24, 2012
Abstract: At least 30 people in Georgia have contracted anthrax this year, prompting authorities to step up safety measures, medical officials said Friday. Georgia's Center for Infectious Diseases said that by year's end the ex-Soviet nation is expected to roughly match last year's total of 59 cases. That would represent a marked increase from the 28 anthrax cases the Caucasus Mountains country had in 2010. Naira Gogebashvili, a leading expert of a Tbilisi clinic treating infectious diseases, said some of the patients contracted anthrax due to violations of safety procedures regarding the burial of sick animals. "They should be buried in specially allocated ground, not in accidental places as it often happens," she said. One of the hospital's patients, Alexei Alaichev, a 58-year-old resident of the town of Tsalka in southern Georgia, contracted anthrax while cultivating a potato field. "I rubbed my hand and after several hours I saw that it's covered with sores," he said. "It turned out that a cow that died of anthrax was buried nearby. They conducted a check and found out it was buried not deeply enough." Most of the cases this year have been registered in eastern Georgia near the border with Azerbaijan, but the infection has spread to other regions as well. Dzhemal Kaldani, 49, a resident of the village of Lemshveniera in the Gardaban region that borders Azerbaijan, said he got sick after helping a neighbor to cut a dead cow. "We had no idea that the cow had anthrax," he said, showing his arms still covered with sores. Kaldani said that authorities quickly vaccinated all cows in the region following several anthrax cases (RSOE, 2012).
Title: Security Lapses Found At CDC Bioterror Lab In Atlanta
Date: June 27, 2012
Source: USA Today
Abstract: A federal bioterror laboratory already under investigation by Congress for safety issues has had repeated incidents of security doors left unlocked to an area where experiments occur with dangerous germs, according to internal agency e-mails obtained by USA TODAY. In one incident, an unauthorized employee was discovered inside a restricted area.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman says the unsecured door incidents in 2010 and 2009 inside its Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory in Atlanta were "not an acceptable practice of the agency." At no time, though, were bioterror organisms such as anthrax at risk of falling into the wrong hands, he said.
"The doors in question here are but one layer of multiple layers of security when it comes to both the animals and the agents that are worked on," CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said. "The security measures we have in place, without going into detail, make it close to impossible for anyone who doesn't have approved access to the agents to get their hands on them."
The e-mails document doors being left unlocked in the building's high-containment lab block, which includes an animal-holding area and Biosafety Level 3 labs where experiments are done on microbes that can cause serious or potentially fatal diseases and can be spread through the air. Anthrax, monkeypox, dangerous strains of influenza and the SARS virus are examples.
One e-mail by a CDC safety manager describes an unauthorized man discovered in the animal-holding area and multiple doors that were unsecured at the time. Skinner says the man was a CDC scientist but was not immediately able to provide further details about why he was in the restricted area. Skinner said the man was in an outer corridor of the BSL-3 suite of labs.
For safety and security, access to BSL-3 labs is restricted and they are supposed to have special airflow systems designed to help keep organisms inside. Problems with the airflow systems revealed by USA TODAY, including a February incident where air briefly blew out of a lab into a "clean" hallway, prompted the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week to launch a bipartisan investigation into safety issues. The committee is examining whether CDC — which inspects its own labs along with others nationwide that handle bioterror agents — is complying with federal safety requirements at the lab building, also known as CDC Building 18.
E-mails written by CDC Safety and Occupational Health manager Patrick Stockton indicate the lab has had security lapses that Rutgers University biosafety expert Richard Ebright said may be a "major violation" of security standards for labs that work with potential bioterror agents.
In a November 2009 e-mail, Stockton wrote to several CDC officials involved with Building 18's high-containment laboratory area: "We are continuing to have some difficulties with doors remaining unsecured in the (high-containment lab) area. … If we continue to have issues, we will need to begin looking at individual access rights for these doors." The particular issue involved expansion sections of the doors, used to accommodate large pieces of equipment. The "through-bolts are not being re-engaged, and the doors are remaining unsecured," Stockton wrote.
Five months later, the expansion doors continued to be left unlatched and unsecured. According to an April 29, 2010, e-mail to more than a dozen CDC officials involved with the lab building, Stockton wrote that earlier that day "an individual with no access and no escort" was found in the research animal-holding area of the high-containment lab area.
The e-mail continued: "He did not have access and at this point we are not sure how he got there." Stockton wrote that he talked to program and animal staff and "no one from their programs let this person in." CDC's Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness, which is a liaison to the Department of Homeland Security, was investigating, the e-mail said. Homeland Security officials did not respond to questions about the CDC security incidents.
Stockton's e-mail says that after the incident he and the building's high-containment lab manager, Anthony Sanchez, walked the entire high-containment block and found two doors unsecured. "This can certainly happen by mistake on occasion but we have addressed this issue in the past and now it seems to be a common failure point. … It is imperative that all doors leading to high containment remain secured," Stockton wrote.
Stockton and Sanchez didn't grant interviews. CDC spokesman Skinner said: "Doors being left open by staff is not a standard practice. It's unacceptable, and our safety office has sent out numerous reminders to staff of the importance of staff practicing good physical security."
Skinner said he is unaware of any other door security incidents after the one in April 2010. He emphasized that multiple layers of security in the building would have prevented any unauthorized person from accessing germs that hold the potential to be used as bioterror weapons. "The bottom line is, worker safety and the public safety were never compromised," he said.
Ebright, of Rutgers University, expressed concern about the repeated issues revealed in news reports about Building 18 since the $214 million building opened in 2005, including articles in 2007 about backup generators that failed to keep airflow systems working during a power outage, and in 2008 about a high-containment lab door that the CDC sealed with duct tape after an incident where an airflow system malfunctioned and sent potentially contaminated air into a "clean" corridor.
The "documents you have obtained over the past several years make it clear that there has been a pattern of corner-cutting and negligence at CDC biocontainment facilities —starting with the failure to include provisions for emergency backup power, and encompassing inadequate door seals, improper airflow, jury-rigged repairs, and unsecured access points," Ebright said.
If the security issues described in Stockton's 2010 e-mail continue and bioterror agents are being used in that area, Ebright said, "then heads should fall."
The CDC currently is responsible for inspecting the safety and security of its labs that work with bioterror agents. Skinner said CDC has a 66-year record of operating its labs safely.
The CDC said this week, in the wake of USA TODAY's reports, that it is considering having its labs' safety reviewed by an outside agency, such as the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).
Biosafety and biosecurity concerns have been the subject of previous congressional concerns. A 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, examined the potential risks posed by the growing number of high-containment labs doing research on potential bioterror agents. It found that while lab accidents are rare, they do occur, primarily because of human error and systems failures.
It also noted that insiders working in the labs can pose risks, pointing to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's allegation that Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID in Fort Detrick, Md., was the "sole culprit" in the 2001 anthrax attacks. While he was under investigation in 2008, Ivins died of a drug overdose."There are arguably two aspects to insider risk: the motive of the insider and the ability to misuse material and laboratory facilities," the GAO wrote in its report (USA Today, 2012).