2007: GAO Report on BSL4 Labs in the USA: WTF?

Preliminary Observations on the Oversight of the
Proliferation of BSL-3 and BSL-4 Laboratories in the
United States

A major proliferation of high-containment BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs is taking place in the United States, according to the literature, federal agency officials, and experts. The expansion is taking place across many sectors—federal, academic, state, and private—and all over the United States. Concerning BSL4 labs, which handle the most dangerous agents, the number of these labs has increased from 5—before the terrorist attacks of 2001—to 15, including at least 1 in planning stage. Information on expansion is available about highcontainment labs that are registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Select Agent Program, and that are federally funded. However, much less is known about the expansion of labs outside the Select Agent Program, as well as the nonfederally funded labs, including location, activities, and ownership.

No single federal agency, according to 12 agencies’ responses to our survey, has the mission to track the overall number of BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs in the United States. Though several agencies have a need to know, no one agency knows the number and location of these labs in the United States. Consequently, no agency is responsible for determining the risks associated with the proliferation of these labs.

We identified six lessons from three recent incidents: failure to report to CDC exposures to select agents by Texas A&M University (TAMU); power outage at the CDC’s new BSL-4 lab in Atlanta, Georgia; and release of foot-and-mouth disease virus at Pirbright in the United Kingdom. These lessons highlight the importance of (1) identifying and overcoming barriers to reporting in order to enhance biosafety through shared learning from mistakes and to assure the public that accidents are examined and contained; (2) training lab staff in general biosafety, as well as in specific agents being used in the labs to ensure maximum protection; (3) developing mechanisms for informing medical providers about all the agents that lab staff work with to ensure quick diagnosis and effective treatment; (4) addressing confusion over the definition of exposure to aid in the consistency of reporting; (5) ensuring that BSL-4 labs’ safety and security measures are commensurate with the level of risk these labs present; and (6) maintenance of high-containment labs to ensure integrity of physical infrastructure over time….


C-SPAN Washington Journal
Security Lapses at the Center for Disease Control

Alison Young talked about her recent article for USA Today about security lapses in labs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that could pose bioterror threats, including the release of hazardous materials such as anthrax. She also talked about allegations that employees exposed to potential bioterror agents may not have received proper training. Topics included causes for the security lapses, who should be held accountable for the lapses, and who sets the standards for the labs.


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