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Pathogen labs lack security: GAO

Two of the five US labs that conduct research on the world's most dangerous pathogens suffer from serious security shortfalls, according to a linkurl:report;http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d081092.pdf released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) today (October 16). What's more, the labs were given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) stamp of approval despite these shortcomings, the report states. The two labs were not named in the report, but the linkurl:Associated

By | October 16, 2008

Two of the five US labs that conduct research on the world's most dangerous pathogens suffer from serious security shortfalls, according to a linkurl:report;http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d081092.pdf released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) today (October 16). What's more, the labs were given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) stamp of approval despite these shortcomings, the report states. The two labs were not named in the report, but the linkurl:Associated Press;http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5inmo513Cwv9jGHRulik62fProDpwD93REOF80 did identify the institutions that house the labs as the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas, and Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. Only facilities capable of the highest level of biocontainment -- biosafety level 4 (BSL4) -- are allowed to work on a select group of deadly pathogens with no known cure, such as Ebola and smallpox. In addition to the two institutions noted above, the CDC's Atlanta facility, the Army's lab in linkurl:Fort Detrick,;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54907/ and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston also have BSL4 labs. The GAO checked the five labs for the presence of 15 security measures which would deter, detect, delay, and deny access to intruders. These features include a physical boundary around the building's perimeter, a manned checkpoint to screen incoming vehicles, and video camera monitoring. Three of the labs had between 13 and 15 of the measures in place. But the two inadequate labs used just three or four of the security measures, lacking features such as good live camera monitoring and a centralized security point. In one lab (Georgia State, according to the AP), a pedestrian entered the building through an unguarded loading dock during the GAO inspection. According to legislation passed in 2002, the CDC is required to register all labs that work with a linkurl:select group of pathogens;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/14717/ that are deemed especially contagious or dangerous to humans, or that could potentially be used as bioterror agents. The agency does not prescribe security measures for all intuitions to follow, instead asking each lab to develop a security plan based on a site-specific risk assessment. That policy, the GAO report recommended, should be changed. Earlier this week, officials at Boston University said they planned to linkurl:increase security requirements;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55087/ for the controversial pathogen lab -- which is to contain a BSL4 facility -- under construction there. Four other BSL4 facilities linkurl:are under construction;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/14718/ or in planning stages, including the much-debated linkurl:National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility,;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54670/ the site for which is yet to be determined. Last October, a linkurl:GAO report;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53679/ criticized the government agencies responsible for oversight of biolab safety.
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