Researchers cry foul over newly proposed infectious agents screenings

Researchers at labs working with biological agents have bristled at new proposals by Congress to secure infectious agents.

The proposals, supported by recently released federal study, call for more close screening of those working with infectious agents.

The proposals come as part of a Bush administration ordered report that followed the discovery that anthrax sent to a Senate office building came from a lab worker - Bruce Ivins - at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The U.S. government conducts research on countermeasures for biological weapons at Fort Detrick.

The Working Group on Strengthening the Biosecurity of the United States conducted the newly released survey, which recommends that all bioagents be evaluated for risk. Stricter guidelines would be implemented for more dangerous pathogens while more lax regulation would be implemented for pathogens considered less risky.

Government oversight for the guidelines would be controlled by inspections and mandated record keeping.

A similar system has been called for by a bill introduced last year in the U.S. Senate that is expected to be voted on during this session.

"The American Biological Safety Association, the closest thing that scientific research has to a representative agency, has been trying to get its opinion to Congress that these rules are far too restrictive and unnecessary," a staffer who works in a biological defense research lab at Fort Detrick told Popular Mechanics. "It is far more effective to have the various labs police themselves; but that opinion has been overwhelmed by all of the publicity about Bruce Ivins, swine flu, bird flu and grandstanding about terrorism."

"The bottom line is that almost all scientists here feel that having yet another government bureaucratic entity looking over their shoulder will be extremely counterproductive to science and will gain virtually no results."

The American Biological Safety Association has also expressed fear that larger, well-funded entities such as universities will be able to comply with additional regulations but that smaller research entities and public health laboratories, dealing with budgetary constraints, would not.