:: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 09-10-2014
So what can you get while working at the NIH? In the past we told you about your risk of exposure to Anthrax, Smallpox, and the Avian Flu Virus. Well, now you can add ricin and Burkholderia pseudomallei, two well-recognized biological weapons, to your shopping list!
The Washington Post is reporting that during a beefed up safety inspection, NIH employees unexpectedly found these and several other deadly biological agents improperly stored among old and long-forgotten stockpiles, some dating back over 60 years.
I must admit that, unfortunately, I have found the news much less shocking this time around than in the past. In fact, I believe that I have now gone through several of the classical stages of grief:
- Denial (it can’t be that the most respected scientific agency in the United States would irresponsibly allow the dangerous transfer of Anthrax to a low level bio-hazard lab)
- Anger (what the heck is wrong with the scientist that left Smallpox at the back of the freezer?
- Depression (we are all going to die from the Avian Flu virus)
- Acceptance (ricin, staphylococcal enterotoxin, Melioidosis…these are just some of the things you should expect to find at an unsecured government research facility)
There really isn’t much more to say. I applaud the fact that the NIH are trying to introduce measure to more strictly control these substances, but I am not sure that the system will ever be 100% foolproof. There are probably tens, if not hundreds, of dangerous materials floating around labs all over the US, (not to mention the rest of the world). Is this a reason to be scared? I think so. What about you?
:: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 07-17-2014
So the BRRAT (Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Technology laboratory) scientists are at it again. They just cannot keep themselves out of trouble. I am at a loss for words. There really is nothing left to say. You can’t make this stuff up folks. Three breaches of CDC (Center for Disease Control) policy regarding the safe handling of extremely dangerous bio-hazardous materials all within weeks of each other.
For the benefit of those that have not read the stories that we’ve posted previously, here is a brief recap. In June, approximately 75 scientists were exposed to the deadly Anthrax virus when it was accidentally transferred from a high-level biosafety lab to one with a lower clearance level. Then in early July, an FDA scientist found 6 vials of smallpox somewhere in the back of his freezer. Apparently it had been sitting there for decades, (sounds like a very good freezer-they certainly don’t make them to last like that anymore), waiting for some poor, unsuspecting researcher to find it and bring it back to life.
So what’s next you ask? What’s the third breach? Are you sitting down?
The CDC is reporting that the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus was mistakenly shipped from a high level biosafety lab to a low level Department of Agriculture Facility. That’s right. The deadly virus was mistakenly shipped to the wrong place. But wait…there’s more. According to CDC Director Thomas Frieden, more than six weeks passed between the time that the virus was sent to the Department of Agriculture until it was officially reported to the CDC.
I give up. My confidence in the system is officially shot.
So how did the CDC respond to these violations? Their official response can be seen in this press release. Here is a synopsis for those who don’t have the patients to comb through another CDC report. Keep in mind that this is my take on the response and not the official position of the CDC:
- immediate cessation on the transfer of highly dangerous biological materials (now that makes sense)
- establishment of a working group to hold scientists accountable for common sense
- establishment of a review group (do you see a pattern here?) to figure out how to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future
- BRRAT scientists can no longer work with hazardous material until it has been shown that they can act responsibly with materials that can be used to create biological weapons
- somebody might lose his/her job
So what do yo think? Are these measures strong enough? Do they reinstall your confidence in the ability of America’s top Scientists to protect the rest of us low level lab techs from contracting a deadly disease or potentially spreading it to your friends and family.
I’m not sure that I am feeling any better. Are you?
:: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 07-09-2014
First it was Anthrax and now it’s Smallpox!!! Last month, we told you about the CDC’s report that as many as 75 CDC scientists may have been exposed to Anthrax when a vial containing the deadly bacteria was accidentally transferred to a low level bio-hazard lab that was ill equipped to handle the stuff. Now, Science Insider is reporting that six vials of smallpox were found by an FDA scientist who was cleaning out his freezer! Apparently, the 60 something year old vials were stuffed in the back of this lab’s freezer or fridge in a poorly labeled cardboard box.
Folks, this is why you don’t store you lunch in the same fridge that you store your lab reagents. Imagine the headlines had the vials been mistaken for savory condiments. Scientist contracts smallpox while accidentally spreading it on his favorite sandwich.
It is also another reason not to buy cheap Sharpie pens. Vials must be labeled clearly and the label must last. Labeling your samples in a code that nobody understands is a surefire way to cause major pandemonium amongst current and future lab-mates. And if the label rubs off, what good was it to begin with? I bet that tens of hands (gloved and ungloved) have touched these poorly-labeled vials of smallpox over the decades.
The article in Science discusses the dangerous possibility that these vials could have fallen into the hands of terrorists and used as bio-weapons. But, as scientists, we should be more worried that the vials could have fallen on anybody’s hands and contaminated the entire lab! This is scary stuff.
To read the article in Science Insider visit Six vials of smallpox discovered in U.S. lab