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CDC Biolabs Could Receive Independent Scrutiny

Specialists with the U.S. Army or a separate organization could give new scrutiny to biological defense research facilities operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA Today reported on Monday (see GSN, June 25).

The move would follow descriptions by the newspaper of multiple operational glitches in technology intended to prevent any escape of disease particles from the CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory, a $214 million biodefense research space at the federal organization's headquarters in Atlanta.

The agency is examining the possibility of an independent entity auditing protections and risk reduction measures at its science facilities "to see if there's anything we can and should be doing to make our program even better than it already is," CDC spokesman Tom Skinner stated.

Skinner said the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases or Health Canada's accident prevention division might carry out such checks. The federal medical entity presently conducts audits internally.

The spokesman said he "can understand how some feel that CDC overseeing itself is a conflict of interest," but added the organization has for 66 years responsibly run experiment areas such as Building 18, the site of the reported glitches. No disease materials have escaped or spread to humans at Building 18 over the hundreds of days of studies carried out at the site, he added.

"We have an extraordinary track record for that building as far as safety goes," Skinner stated.

Separately, the official on Monday said the agency would deploy new technology to address concerns that doorways would presently require triple the maximum allowable amount of physical energy to unblock during a potential crisis.

The problem became known in 2010 and possibly earlier. Skinner, though, said CDC risk reduction personnel had not believed it to constitute a legal breach under their previous reading of regulations.

The glitch affects three of about 20 entryways in the facility's controlled study area, according to the CDC spokesman (Alison Young, USA Today, June 25).

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