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Airflow problems plague CDC bioterror lab

Posted by truthpills on 2012/06/20

By Alison Young, USA TODAY

A $214 million bioterror germ lab at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has had repeated problems with airflow systems designed to help prevent the release of infectious agents, government documents and internal e-mails show.

While the agency says no one has been infected, a biosafety expert says the problems appear to be major violations of laboratory operating standards.

The area of the building with problems involves Biosafety Level 3 labs that can be used for experiments involving anthrax, dangerous strains of influenza, the SARS coronavirus, monkeypox and other microbes that have the potential to be used as bioweapons.

In February, air from inside a potentially contaminated lab briefly blew outward into a “clean” corridor where a group of visitors weren’t wearing any protective gear which raised concern about exposure risks, according to e-mails reporting and discussing what happened. Research animals in the lab had not yet been infected at the time of the incident, the records say.

CDC engineers have raised written concerns about the air containment systems since at least 2010. At that time, scientists working with poxviruses, such as monkeypox, expressed concerns about airflow and said they “don’t want to go into that facility because they don’t feel comfortable with the way it is currently designed,” according to minutes from a February 2010 meeting to discuss reversing the way air flowed through the labs and animal-holding areas.

According to the minutes, CDC safety manager William Howard said: “Bottom line is we can’t continue to operate the building the way it is … if (a bioterror lab inspector) finds out air is moving this direction they will shut this place down.”

The CDC refused to grant interviews or answer any questions submitted in writing about the problems inside the high-containment labs and animal-holding area of the agency’s 11-story Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory, also known as CDC Building 18.
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