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 www.labwatch.org


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