California county considers shutting down public health lab

Officials in Marin County, California, have proposed shutting down the county's public health laboratory, which is used to test for anthrax and other bioterrorism agents, as an attempt to cut costs.

On March 27, Larry Meredith, the director of the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, will present the board of supervisors with a proposal to move the services of the lab to Sonoma County. The proposal, which has its critics, would leave only a pickup and drop-off point in Marin County, the Marin Independent Journal reports.

Meredith estimates that closing the lab would save approximately $300,000 a year for the county. The proposal is the latest in a series of retrenchments by the county's health department due to budget constraints. The lab tests for pandemic diseases, for the safety of food and water, and for anthrax and other bioterrorism agents.

"You can't kid anyone; in a daily, rush, or disaster situation, once-a-day service to Sonoma will not meet the same turn-around times to our citizens, particularly in disasters when infrastructure is disabled," Theresa Brown, a microbiologist at the lab, said, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

The plan has been criticized by members of the county's Disaster Council and Health Council.

"In the event of a pandemic or bioterrorist public health emergency our lab may be the only source of rapid pathogen identification and antibiotic sensitivity testing," John Buffum, a member of the disaster council, said, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

Officials at the Sonoma lab, which already provides lab services for two counties, said that the lab is well-equipped to handle the work necessary for Marin.