Allegheny County bioterrorism lab opens

The Allegheny County Health Department bioterrorism lab is at least $2 million over budget and two years overdue, but it is open and operating, though still waiting for federal clearances.

County officials are hoping that the lab will be accepted into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national response network by the end of the year, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. The acceptance would mean that the lab would be capable of working with deadly pathogens such as anthrax and small pox.

The bioterrorism lab is part of a larger $6.4 million lab biosecurity lab system located in Lawrence, Pennsylvania that opened this summer. According to department director Dr. Bruce Dixon, that lab has been working with HIV and tuberculosis.

Not all has gone smoothly for the project, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. Workers recently had to move a pipe to fix ventilation problems. Some doors were also prevented from locking properly because of negative pressure generated by the air lock system.

“The fine balancing of the air and making sure things work according to the systems is a very delicate thing,” Dixon told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The 400-square-foot building was slated to open in August 2009, but it failed an independent consultant’s inspection. It then missed a scheduled opening before the Group of 20 international economic summit in fall 2009.

Finally up and running, the bioterrorism lab has four specialized technicians that hold FBI clearances, and the department may train an additional one or two. They are able to test high-threat pathogens, but must send results to the state for confirmation.