Committee looks to conduct risk assessment of Frederick lab

The Containment Lab Advisory Community Advisory Committee, a group formed to act as a liaison between the residents of Frederick County, Maryland, and the containment laboratories in the area, has taken on its first challenge.

At a meeting of the National Research Council on Monday, March 21, Beth Willis, the committee chair, said that the committee is attempting to conduct a risk assessment for a new laboratory space, according to the Frederick News Post.

A similar NRC panel last year evaluated the Army’s environmental impact for its new infectious disease lab, which led to the formation of the current committee.

Willis mentioned several key issues that needed to be included in current and future risk assessments.

"A significantly more complex environment is evolving with the addition of each new facility," Willis' written comments said, according to the Frederick News Post. "Earlier (environmental impact statements) spoke to possible impacts of simultaneous breakdowns of systems in different (National Interagency Biodefense Campus) facilities, but not of cascading or non-simultaneous events. Both the gulf oil spill and the current nuclear crisis in Japan speak to the reality of events sometimes escalating well beyond a hazard assessment's worst-case scenario.”

In addition, Willis and the committee said that past risk assessments have downplayed the possible risk of disgruntled employees and insider threat as well as the risk of an external terrorist threat. The committee also warned of the need for a more thorough discussion on lab-acquired infections and lab accidents, which she said were a source of anxiety for those in the community.

"While we understand that tularemia is not directly infectious human-to-human, in a scenario with a disease that is directly transmissible what would be the consequences in the city, the schools, medical offices etc?" the statement said, according to the Frederick News Post.