Researchers say BioWatch cannot detect lethal germs

Scientists speaking on the condition of anonymity said that a system meant to protect the United States against biological attacks operated with defective components for two years.

The scientists told the Los Angeles Times that in 2007, Homeland Security installed components called multiplex assays for the BioWatch system. The assays triggered false alarms when tested in laboratories because they could not distinguish between a certain deadly strain of bacteria and a benign organism, UPI reports.

The assays were unable to detect differences between common and benign organisms, known as near neighbors, that are abundant in outdoor environments. The system also failed to identify the potentially deadly rabbit fever.

The Department of Homeland Security used the assays in an attempt to reduce personnel costs and allow for faster detection of biological attacks by screening for multiple pathogens at once. Scientists voiced concerns about the multiple assays and secret testing concluded the multiplex assays were not suitable for BioWatch, according to UPI.

Officials with the department removed the assays in late 2009 and went back to using kits that searched for one pathogen at a time.

The scientists said that the multiplex assays were put into practice without sufficient testing.

A federal official who oversaw installation of the multiplex assays was moved to a position with no BioWatch responsibility and the entire matter was kept out of public view.

DHS has opened an internal investigation into the matter, UPI reports.