NIST releases update to biothreat collection guidelines

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, along with various federal, state and local agencies, recently released an update to existing guidelines for the collection of potentially dangerous suspected biothreat samples.

The Department of Homeland Security originally requested a standard set of protocols governing sample collection in 2006. The NIST and the Association of Analytical Communities International responded with a two step process for collecting bulk samples of suspicious powder from a solid surface and the collection of residual material with swabs to be used in field evaluation, according to

Members of two focus groups formed within the first responder community recommended new guidelines to facilitate collection and coordination with receiving laboratories.

Because many of the organizations involved in the process have different concerns when responding to biothreat incidents, broad acceptance of the guidelines was critical to the process, reports. For example, first responders must coordinate with both public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and law enforcement agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Their primary concern, along with protecting the public, is to preserve the chain of custody.

"The new guidance explains that first response agencies should do the legwork now to establish relationships they will need in the event of an incident," Jayne Morrow, an environmental engineer at NIST who led the revision project, said, according to "For example, it provides recommendations regarding who should be at the planning table, and it even recommends creating a laminated card of phone numbers for expert support to enable first responders to effectively address one of these situations.”

The new guidelines - Standard Practices for Bulk Sample Collection and Swab Sample Collection of Visible Powders Suspected of Being Biothreat Agents from Nonporous Surfaces and the Standard Guide for Operational Guidelines for Initial Response to a Suspected Biothreat Agent - are available from ASTM International, an international voluntary consensus standards provider.