Affect of new legislation on science community questioned

The ability of U.S. laboratories to conduct important biodefense research could be impaired by mandates included in new federal legislation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has announced.

The association's concerns arise from the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009, which calls for the establishment of a new system of oversight and security procedures under the Homeland Security Department for certain select agents, pathogens and biological toxins declared to pose a severe threat to human health.

The legislation, if approved, would require the Homeland Security Department to prepare security regulations for laboratories. Additionally, the government's list of select agents and toxins would be separated into three tiers with facilities handling the eight to 10 mos dangerous materials receiving the highest security. Those facilities would also be regulated by Homeland Security. Sites in the lower two tiers would be regulated by the Health and Human Services Department.

In a letter submitted by the association earlier this month to Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins, the association stated that a separate system of oversight would complicate the process and force laboratories to use time and resources deal with government security rules that could be used for research.

As many as 400 facilities would be affected by the bill as well as 15,00 individuals authorized to work with deadly pathogens. The measure would also mandate the establishment of a national medical countermeasures dispensing strategy before and after a disease outbreak or act of bioterrorism.