More delays at new Homeland Security lab

One-and-a-half years after the dedication of the new Homeland Security lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, researchers have still not been able to move into the building.

The latest delay in moving into the building follows endurance tests that uncovered flaws in the building. The most serious flaw was found to be the valve placement that allows access to HEPA filter in the building's biosafety level three labs.

The HEPA filters decontaminate air that flows out of the labs and must be either decontaminated or replaced every few years.


The valves allow workers into air ducts but were placed too far from the filters, making safe access to the filters challenging.

A subcontractor will be needed to make and install new valves that are closer to the filters, which is expected to take between four to eight months, Pat Fitch, lab director for the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, told

"This is about risk management," Fitch said. "It's not impossible to manage the HEPA filters the way they are right now; it's just not where I want to take my risk. So I would rather delay four months and put the valves in now than wait three years until one of those HEPA filters needs to be changed and be arguing about what the safe way is to change them."

Other problems found at the lab included contaminated water that could bubble out of drains on the lower floors of the building and changes in room air pressure during a decontamination practice that cracked a biosafety level three area's ceiling.