BioWatch system comes under scrutiny

Officials with the U.S. National Academies of Science say a system of air samplers set up in major cities to detect biological agents may be facing some challenges.

Authorities set up the air sampling system, known as BioWatch, in 2003, reports. The system is comprised of air monitoring devices in over 30 U.S. cities, including New York and Washington, D.C. Samples of air are collected and tested in local laboratories every 24 hours for traces of a list of potential bioterror agents.

A committee convened by the NAS tasked with reviewing the system has concluded that tests should be done to establish the effectiveness of BioWatch, and that better coordination is needed to make the system more useful.

The NAS committee found that the system was not well integrated into the U.S. public health system, reports. Committee members argued they system relies on local health departments and healthcare systems to analyze and respond to any detected threats.

“The BioWatch system needs to establish a more effective relationship with public health systems where it is deployed,” an unnamed committee member told

Committee members also cite the cost of BioWatch as an issue. As it stands now, the local authorities managing BioWatch devices are not given any extra financial support. The committee says that the costs of analyzing and responding to threats are an extra burden to public health authorities, which should be compensated for BioWatch-related work and staff training, reports.