CDC mulls outside inspections on bioterror laboratories

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering using U.S. Army scientists or a different outside agency to inspect its bioterror labs to address airflow system issues.

The agency's Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratory in Atlanta has experienced multiple problems with its airflow systems that are meant to prevent infectious agents from getting released. The lab includes a high-containment block for experiments on monkeypox, dangerous flu strains and anthrax, USA Today reports.

The CDC also plans to address fire code violations from December 2010 by installing safety equipment to prevent workers from being trapped because of negative air pressure during an emergency.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the CDC on Monday calling for e-mails and documents related to safety problems in the lab as part of a bipartisan investigation.

"I can understand how some feel that CDC overseeing itself is a conflict of interest," Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the CDC, said, according to USA Today. "(An outside agency could) see if there's anything we can and should be doing to make our program even better than it already is. We have an extraordinary track record for that building as far as safety goes."

Outside agencies that could inspect the facilities in lieu of the CDC include the lab safety arm of Health Canada and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

In February, air from a potentially contaminated laboratory briefly blew into a clean corridor where visitors weren't protected by any gear, raising questions about exposure risks.

"The recent reports of potential safety lapses at one of the CDC's most sensitive biolabs are of tremendous concern," Cliff Stearns, a Republican representative of Florida and the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said, according to USA Today. "It is troubling that the integrity of this $214 million facility could be in question, and we must do all that we can to ensure our scientists are safe. Even one incident is too many at Building 18."