Four private labs in Frederick, Maryland, revealed to be handling select biological agents

At a recent public meeting held in Frederick, Maryland, a state official revealed that Fredrick County contains four private laboratories that work with select biological agents, but would not release further details about their location or the agents in question.

Fran Phillips, the deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Hygiene, was a guest speaker at a Containment Laboratory Citizens’ Advisory Committee meeting held in the Frederick City Hall. Together with members of the departments’ lab administration division, she was invited to answer questions regarding the safety and oversight of the labs, according to

In total, Maryland has 22 registered labs that regularly work with select biological agents, defined by the state as “pathogens that could be used to wreak havoc on human life, the economy or agriculture,” such as anthrax and West Nile virus.

Information about the nature of the labs, including details about their location, is only shared among law enforcement, emergency and public health personnel.

“The rationale behind nondisclosure is that the state felt a community would be at risk if there was a public directory of names and location of the labs handling select agents and what those agents were,” Phillips said, reports. “In the interest of community security, information in the hands of wrong people could put community at risk.”

The Office of Laboratory Emergency Preparedness and Response in the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene started registering the labs in 2002. The only way to change the confidentiality status of the laboratories is through state legislation. The Maryland program is modeled directly after federal protocols adopted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Committee members and residents questioned the security of the secret facilities. Committee Chairwoman Beth Willis pointed out that physical security at the laboratories could be slight and reliant mostly on anonymity.

Bob Myers, the state’s laboratory manager, attempted to reassure the group by replying that the labs have physical security measures and that those working with select agents must pass FBI background checks.

“There is a lot of logic in it [anonymity],” Alderman Karen Young (D), a member of the containment committee, said, reports. “If they are not providing their own security, they are dependent on local government to provide that security. But it’s not possible for us to do that, so we don’t have a choice but to protect the identity.”