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Lawmakers Launch Probe Into CDC Disease Lab Ventilation Glitch
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received a request from a House of Representatives committee for records related to a glitch in filtration equipment intended to contain disease agents within a $214 million biodefense study area at the agency's headquarters in Atlanta, CNN reported last week (see GSN, June 13).
The site's High-Efficiency Particulate Arresting technology failed to process a quantity of vapor from the laboratory's experiments section in the Feb. 16 incident, according to legislative and CDC insiders. The unfiltered vapor passed through a doorway slit from the controlled study area into an adjacent walkway intended to remain free of harmful biological particles.
The experiments section during the incident was free of dangerous disease materials and not in operation, and hazardous organisms spread to no people, according to CDC personnel.
"At no time during recent incidents featured in the media were CDC workers or the public in harm's way," CDC spokesman Tom Skinner stated. "This unique facility features multiple security layers specifically designed to protect workers and the public in the event of an incident."
Passersby in the affected area of Building 18 could have made contact with lethal biological agents had work been taking place when the incident occurred, according to analysts, but a widespread release would still have been improbable. Avian influenza, monkeypox, rabies and tuberculosis are among agents handled at the Biosafety Level 3 site.
"The biggest concern was that there was a contingent of visitors who were walking through the building," said House Energy and Commerce Committee member Michael Burgess (R-Texas). "And had one of those people been stricken or made ill or worse, obviously that would have been devastating."
"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," the panel said in a comment provided to CNN (Todd/McConnell, CNN, June 21).
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