CDC Director Frieden confirms pattern of insufficient lab safety

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden testified before a House subcommittee last week and acknowledged that recent lab safety breaches were part of an insufficient culture of safety.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on Wednesday to review recent incidents at the CDC involving anthrax and other dangerous pathogens. In June, more than 80 workers at a CDC lab in Atlanta were potentially exposed to live anthrax. In the past month, additional reports emerged, adding urgency to a House Energy and Commerce Committee investigation, according to a committee press release.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the incidents raise serious red flags about a lack of oversight and safety.

"Add to the possible anthrax exposure the delayed notice provided to CDC leadership about avian flu shipments and the discovery of smallpox vials in a cardboard box in (a Food and Drug Administration) storage room on the (National Institutes of Health) campus, and these incidents no longer appear isolated; a dangerous pattern is emerging, and there are a lot of unknowns out there. When dealing with pathogens such as the ones being discussed today, unknowns are unacceptable."

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said the CDC should be the gold standard in the U.S. public health system, but the agency's reputation has been tarnished.

"The pattern is an insufficient culture of safety," Frieden said.

The committee also learned that in the most recent anthrax incident, materials were allegedly transferred within two plastic Ziploc bags between labs and stored in unlocked refrigerators in an unrestricted hallway.

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