U.S. Agriculture Department Funding Insecure Laboratories, Report Says

Security and oversight are sorely lacking at many federally funded U.S. university laboratories that contain dangerous biological agents, according to a report by the U.S. Agriculture Department’s inspector general, the Associated Press reported today (see GSN, Nov. 12).

The report surveyed 104 laboratories that receive department funding and found that only two have central databases for monitoring biological agent inventories. Only five have institutionalized procedures for reporting missing agents.

One university had seven vials of Yersina pestis, which can cause bubonic and pneumonic plague, stored in an unlocked freezer. School officials conducted the last inventory of that freezer in 1994 and it was incomplete, AP reported.

“Officials we spoke with about this situation believed there was a strong possibility that similar conditions existed at a number of other institutions,” the report says.

Another laboratory containing high-risk pathogens was situated near a football stadium and was left open during some games so that fans could use the restrooms (Associated Press/Baltimore Sun, Nov. 21).

The report urges the White House to impose a new standard on the laboratories, including requirements to maintain a central database, improve security and create procedures for reporting missing biological agents (John Heilprin, Associated Press/Boston Globe, Nov. 21).

November 21, 2003
About

Security and oversight are sorely lacking at many federally funded U.S. university laboratories that contain dangerous biological agents, according to a report by the U.S. Agriculture Department’s inspector general, the Associated Press reported today (see GSN, Nov. 12).

Countries