Saturday, May 20, 2006

UW Losing Accountability

I was saddened to discover this week that I'd completely missed this
months UW Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) meeting. I say
this months but since the meetings really only happen a few times
per year, if you miss one you find yourself waiting a long time until
the next one (the next scheduled meeting is in September). I thought
I'd find consolation in the fact that I could obtain an audio copy of
the meeting but discovered that as of the May meeting, the UW
will no longer make audio recordings.

That's bad news for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is public
oversight. The UW IBC meetings have been recorded for years,
"something they were doing when I took over" according to
Susan Alexander of EH&S. EH&S had them recorded so they
could later use the audio to make more accurate meeting minutes.
So why the change? Susan says it was because the AG
(Attorney General) found out they'd been recording the meetings
and said they had to stop because the UW didn't have permission
from the individuals involved.

Really? So what's the big deal with asking permission of the
participants? It's not like one doesn't know (as in a phone
conversation) if one is being recorded since there are four large
microphones sitting on the table when one arrives at the meeting.
How hard would it be to verbally ask participants at the beginning
of the meeting when, say, they are being asked "did everyone
receive a copy of the last meeting minutes?" or "is there is anything
anyone would like to add to the agenda" to ask "is there is anyone
who objects to audio recording the meeting"?

And since when are meetings that are held at public institutions,
attended by public employees, doing the publics business (and
in this case overseeing public safety) off limits to electronic
recordings? I understand the concept of if there are portions of
meetings where for reasons of security or proprietary information
that the public be excluded but that's not the case here.

And it's not just that the UW isn't going to record the meetings,
the public won't be allowed to record them either. That's important
to note. I'd gotten permission to videotape the January IBC meeting
and was prepared to do so but didn't exercise my right when I saw
that a sufficient audio recording was being made of that meeting.
I later obtained a copy through the UWs Office of Open Records
and Public Meetings and it is this act that I believe began the ball
rolling towards where we are now. I did the crazy thing of taking a
recording of an open meeting and putting both the audio and a
transcript of the same up on the internet for the public to access.
It's something I think all public institutions should do automatically
(without being asked) but very few do. From that transcript I later
sent out a press release pointing out some disturbing incidents that
had been brought up at the January IBC meeting. As a concerned
citizen I felt it was important to report to the public what the UW
was doing (since clearly no one else was) with regard to biosafety
issues and their potential impacts on public health and our economy.

To that end, I hope that people will support keeping the UW IBC
meetings open to all and allowing both EH&S and the public to
record them.


Mike McCormick

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Interview about UW Violations with Test Animals

Click on photo to watch interview

Interview with Dr. Debra Durham, Primatologist with PETA
Given Friday April 28, 2006 at a protest at the WaNPRC,
UW Western Avenue Primate Facility in Belltown

Mike McCormick: Tell me your name and what brings you out here today?

Debra Durham: My name is Dr. Debra Durham and I’m a Primatologist
with PETA and I’m here to let people know about the abuse of animals
at the University of Washington.

MM: And why have you singled out this particular facility?

DD: We’ve singled out this facility here on Western Avenue because it’s
a facility that tests very dangerous pathogens in monkeys and the abuses
here are particularly egregious. One of the most disturbing incidents we
learned of at this facility involved exsanguination practices that were
completely unauthorized. They were a violation of guidelines established
by the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and in these procedures
multiple monkeys were subjected to them. They were essentially blood
letted until they were on the verge of death. The animals were gasping for
air, in cardiac distress and going into shock. And the researchers would
simply take as much blood as they could before the animal died. They
would keep them alive and do it again the next week. And these were
entirely unauthorized procedures. And we’re horrified that the University
of Washington
would let activities like this go unpunished. The individual
who was actually in charge of these experiments is a member of the
University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the committee
that’s supposed to have oversight of animal experiments at the University
of Washington
. And we’re horrified that a man would do this is given
authority and oversight over animal activities.

MM: Now did you find that this was an anomaly or is this the norm for
this facility and/or the University itself?

DD: Unauthorized procedures are amazingly frequent at the University
of Washington
. We have dozens of instances that involve unauthorized
surgeries, use of unauthorized drugs, use of unauthorized studies and it’s
actually shocking how frequent this is. And these violations range from
using animals without permission to killing them without permission.
And sometimes they can’t even get that right. There were several
instances where animals were supposedly euthanized and put in a
dead animal freezer and people later found them to be alive. And
this is really, really appalling.

MM: And how does the University and this facility compare to other
universities and facilities?

DD: I find the violations here at the University of Washington particularly
egregious. There are facilities that have more USDA violations than the
University of Washington but those aren’t facilities with as much money
as the UW. The UW receives the second most money in public health
service funds of any U.S. institution, second only to Harvard. So to have
these violations at an institution that receives so much government support
I think makes it especially troubling.

MM: So what, based on your knowledge, what would have been the
proper response to, for instance, the experiment you first talked about,
where they bloodlet the animals to such a degree?

DD: Well clearly that individual should not have permission to work with
animals. They were given permission to take 10 ml per kilogram of weight
each week and that’s an extraordinary amount of blood. So for example,
a person can donate a pint of blood every two months and if a person was
put on this regimen they would have six liters of blood taken out in that
same period. It would prove very, very lethal for people to be involved
in this procedure. And to think that someone could violate even that level
and then continue to have permission to use animals and actually have
authority to give other people permission to use animals is shocking. I
think the individuals involved should have been suspended and have their
authority to use animals permanently revoked because they are killing
animals. {editors note - the violation was for the bloodletting, not the
}.They represent an extreme threat to their very lives. At the very
least they should have disclosed the fact that these violations are taking
place and the University definitely doesn’t. All of these things happen
under wraps and they’re just hoping people don’t notice and that they
continue to do more and more deadly experiments here in our backyard.

MM: What oversight mechanisms are currently in place and what oversight
mechanisms would you like to see in place?

DD: The current oversight mechanism is the Institutional Animal Care and
Use Committee, which is a committee that’s mandated by the Animal
Welfare Act, which is enforced by the United States Department of
Agriculture, in terms of giving permission for animal experiments at the
University of Washington. This committee obviously doesn’t do much
given the dozens of violations that take place at the UW, and their very
severe nature. I honestly don’t think there’s any oversight that could be
good enough to manage animal experiments because I don’t believe
animals are ours to exploit in experimentation. But while that is legal and
while we continue to work to change that, the minimum protections should
involve oversight by groups that include animal protectionists. People like
me, people from organizations like PETA and NARN for example here
locally, who would actually be advocates for the animals and have authority
to say no, this experiment is too painful, no this experiment is useless, no
this experiment is duplicating prior work, because right now the AWA
does not have authority to do that. They do not deny permission to do
any experiment no matter how painful, no matter how deadly it might be
and that’s something that has to change.

MM: So when a particular scientist is found to have, you know,
committed a violation, does that then go on a record, their record
of some sort?

DD: Violations are almost always responded to with what’s called
a letter-of-counsel, which is simply a letter from the IACUC to the
investigator that describes the offense and tells them not to do it again.
And that letter does become part of their University of Washington
record, in terms of their permissions to do animal experiments. So
once someone has committed a violation, the next time they ask for
permission to do experiments, the Committee could see the fact that
they had a violation before, however this is not part of their personnel
record, and there’s no federal database such that as if someone commits
a violation here at the University of Washington and leaves and goes to
join the faculty at Harvard, their history of animal abuse and violations
does not follow them. And they can continue to commit abuse at other
institutions. And that’s sometimes the case that a problem employee will
go from place to place until they’re sort of shot out by disciplinary action.
And it just sort of creates a perpetual problem in terms of animal abuse.
And this is with investigators, with veterinary staff and with technician
level staff that are used in animal care operations.

MM: So it sounds like we really need a national database to keep track
of all this?

DD: A registry of offenses by individual investigators and by institution
so that its easy to find out when violations have taken place and activist
groups don’t have to spend months making Freedom of Information Act
requests to find out what kind of abuses are taking place. University
should be forthright about what’s happening and forthright the disciplinary
actions that are taken.

MM: How can people find out more about these issues?

DD: People can find out more about these issues by visiting Stop Animal
Tests Dot Com. And there’s lots of information about the abuse of animals
in laboratories and alternative methods that do not involve animals. So
there are scientists that are using progressive methods that are non animal

MM: All right, thank you.

DD: Thank you.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

UW Plagued by Biosafety Problems

UW Plagued by Biosafety Problems

Seattle, WA 05/02/06 - Less than a year after the University
of Washington withdrew a request for federal funding for a
high security biodefense lab, recently released transcripts reveal
systemic safety problems at several UW biosafety labs.

At the January 2006 meeting of the UW Institutional Biosafety
Committee, members discussed multiple safety lapses that
included both procedural and equipment failures.

At least six and possibly more than a dozen scientists ("PIs" or
"Principal Investigators") working at a biosafety lab in South Lake
Union disregarded SOPs (standard operating procedures) on
assigned work with biohazardous agents.

The PIs "initiated their studies without getting final approval and
without having the appropriate biosafety cabinets, the appropriate
rooms, the appropriate education, the appropriate paperwork on
file and without the appropriate waste stream," according to David
Emery, Chair of the UW IBC (Institutional Biosafety Committee).
"For the life of me, I can’t figure out exactly what happened here".
(From a transcript of the January 13, 2006 meeting of the UW IBC).
It appears neither of the two oversight groups, Environmental Health
& Safety (EH&S), nor the IBC, upon discovering the violations,
sought to halt the biohazardous work.

In addition, IBC meeting transcripts indicate that a backup air
handling system--a primary laboratory safety component--failed
during a 2005 test at one of the BSL-3 labs located in the UW’s
Health Sciences Building. The incident triggered an immediate
shutdown of the affected labs, and all associated researchers
received medical surveillance. Due to the failure, the UW plans
to begin regularly testing its 30 other BSL-3 labs located
on-campus, in the U-District and in South Lake Union.

Biosafety laboratory concerns are nothing new to Seattle.

*Lab safety was the primary concern raised at public hearings
when the UW proposed building a high-security biodefense
BSL-3 complex on-campus last year. Since then, the Northeast
District Council (NEDC), an organization representing 20
neighborhoods has proposed public oversight of biosafety labs
in Seattle.

*In 2004 three researchers at the IDRI/Corixa BSL-3 labs on
First Hill in Seattle were exposed to TB from a faulty animal
aerosol chamber.

*The UW plans to aerosolize the recreated 1918 influenza virus
on monkeys at BSL-3 labs located in the densely populated
neighborhood of Belltown next year. The 1918 influenza strain
killed an estimated 40 to 100 million people. It currently has no
known cure.

For more info: Mike McCormick 206-525-9998
Labwatch Seattle