USDA: Lab security too lax

Agency's report recommends national security guidelines for select agents

Maria Anderson(manderson@the-scientist.com)
Nov 25, 2003

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has recommended that the Department of Homeland Security establish security guidelines for all federally funded labs working with biologically hazardous agents, according to a report on lab security. The report, issued in September 2003, was made available on the USDA OIG Web site last Tuesday (November 18) amidst increased scrutiny of work with such so-called “select agents” during the trial of Thomas Butler, Texas Tech microbiologist accused of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about missing vials of pneumonic plague.

The USDA report cites several examples of lax security measures, including lack of security cameras, appropriate locks on lab doors and freezers, and lab inventory records, at laboratories of researchers conducting experiments on hazardous biological agents. At one institution, vials of Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of bubonic and pneumonic plague, were kept in...

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