CDC halts research at biodefense lab in Texas

A year may not seem like a long time, but everything's relative. For Texas A&M University a year was 51 weeks too long since they were required to report potential breaches of laboratory safety protections in the federally financed biodefense lab they ran within seven days. This "failure to communicate" happened twice, once when researchers got ill with brucellosis and almost at the same time when it was found other lab workers had become infected with Q fever (see our posts here and here). We know about this because of The Sunshine Project, a citizen watchdog group that discovered the events from documents they obtained. Without The Sunshine Project we would never know about these safety violations in a biodefense laboratory, so kudos to them. Meanwhile the predictable hammer has fallen on Texas A&M:


The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention has indefinitely suspended all of Texas A&M University's federally sanctioned research on the most dangerous infectious diseases, following the university's failure to report two 2006 cases of human exposure to biological agents.

Mike McKinney, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, said that before Saturday's decision, the CDC had already halted the university's research on one of the two agents the lab workers were exposed to. He said he supports federal authorities' decision to expand that research ban to all "special agents" monitored by the agency.

"I'm one of those who says, when you find a problem, you ought to take care of it," said Dr. McKinney, who says he didn't learn of the 2006 incidents until about a month ago. "I have a whole bunch of frustration, but it's not with the CDC." (Dallas Morning News)

It's bad when the chancellor is pissed. It could all have been avoided if -- no one knew?

Other university officials said that the CDC isn't operating on any new allegations or information, though, and that the agency is simply bowing to media pressure.

CDC bow to pressure? It's easy to tell. How did they react when there wasn't any pressure?

CDC officials say they never received documentation on the Q Fever exposure. But university officials say that they contacted the CDC on the exposures and that the agency told them it wasn't serious enough to warrant a formal report. The university has since changed its policy to require reporting of exposures, even when there's no evidence of infection.

Note that CDC isn't denying it. They are saying they never received any documentation. A phone call doesn't count, I guess. Now Texas A&M knows the response doesn't count either. Everyone's covering their ass.

There might be a ripple effect (see also Faust looks for a bargain):

[The Sunshine Projedct's Hammond] said it serves as a ;serious blow" to Texas A&M's campaign to host the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, a major federal biological agents lab the Department of Homeland Security will award in 2008.

"How could any government agency in good conscience put an institution in A&M's situation in charge of what's going to be one of largest biodefense labs in the world?" Mr. Hammond asked. "If they can't handle what they've got now, it would seem to be shocking if they were going to be rewarded for that behavior."

Maybe they'll get the Medal of Freedom instead. That doesn't seem to shock anyone.

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"Predictable"fall of hammer is snark, no??

mnp: Only to the extent that it is predictable CDC would act to cover their ass once it got out.