U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) , ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, called for action on Tuesday to ensure safe handling of dangerous pathogens and other materials in federal laboratories.
She joined the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) in leading a hearing on the accidental shipment of anthrax samples that contained live samples to a commercial laboratory and potentially across the country and to South Korea.
“The work being done by researchers to protect us from bio-terrorism is vital to our nation’s public health,” DeGette said. “It is troubling, however, that after years of safety violations, we continue to conduct research on this dangerous pathogen without thoroughly knowing how to inactivate it. This permissive and frankly unacceptable culture of taking risks with dangerous substances is a threat to public safety and must be changed immediately.”
Based on testimony and a report from the Department of Defense, the samples had been shipped from the Army's Dugway Proving Ground facility in Utah. The report said the irradiation process was in line with federal regulations, but that validation tests conducted by the facility failed to identify live anthrax spores in the batch sample.
It was indicated through testimony that oversight and regulation on federal laboratory procedures should be increased and that management of pathogens should be reevaluated to ensure safe operations. The Department of Defense halted anthrax shipments after this incident.