Fed Shutdown Hampers Routine Inspections of Biothreat Labs

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Oct. 2, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

U.S. labor­at­or­ies that con­duct sens­it­ive re­search in­volving some of the most deadly dis­eases will not be reg­u­larly in­spec­ted by the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol be­cause of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shut­down that star­ted Tues­day, the Cen­ter for In­fec­tious Dis­ease Re­search and Policy said in an art­icle pub­lished Tues­day.

CDC spokes­wo­man Bar­bara Reyn­olds said Biosafety Level 3 and 4 fa­cil­it­ies, which carry out re­search in­to highly dan­ger­ous dis­eases for which there are no or in­suf­fi­cient rem­ed­ies, will not be routinely ex­amined while most gov­ern­ment func­tions are closed be­cause of a con­gres­sion­al budget battle.

Be­cause the dangers posed by dis­eases stud­ied at these labor­at­or­ies, CDC of­fi­cials are sup­posed to reg­u­larly in­spect them to make sure that all prop­er se­cur­ity and safety pro­ced­ures are car­ried out to min­im­ize the chances of an ac­ci­dent­al re­lease in­to the en­vir­on­ment or theft by a bad act­or of a patho­gen.

Ab­sent CDC in­spec­tions of BSL-3 and 4 labor­at­or­ies, there is a high­er chance of safety and se­cur­ity prob­lems go­ing un­dis­covered.

In 2012, it was learned that a CDC-op­er­ated BSL-3 labor­at­ory in At­lanta had ex­per­i­enced nu­mer­ous prob­lems with tech­no­logy in­ten­ded to pre­vent dis­ease particles from es­cap­ing in­to the air out­side the re­search space. Though no patho­gens were be­ing handled dur­ing the peri­od when the air-fil­tra­tion tech­no­logy was not work­ing cor­rectly, and thus were not at risk of es­cap­ing in­to the en­vir­on­ment, the in­cid­ent raised con­cerns about biosafety and about the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of the CDC in­spect­ing it­self.

Spend­ing for the Stra­tegic Na­tion­al Stock­pile of weapons-of-mass-de­struc­tion med­ic­al coun­ter­meas­ures will not be im­pacted by the fed­er­al shut­down, ac­cord­ing to the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Agency.

Much of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment ceased op­er­a­tions after mid­night Monday, when fisc­al 2014 star­ted on Oct. 1, as Demo­crats in charge of the Sen­ate and Re­pub­lic­ans run­ning the House re­mained at odds over a tem­por­ary budget to keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning. Demo­crats are re­fus­ing to heed the GOP’s at­tempts, in a House spend­ing bill, to end or lim­it Pres­id­ent Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act.

House Re­pub­lic­ans have in­tro­duced sev­er­al dif­fer­ent budget meas­ures that call for con­tin­ue fund­ing at fisc­al 2013 levels through Dec. 15 for polit­ic­ally sens­it­ive and pop­u­lar fed­er­al pro­grams such as the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health, the Wall Street Journ­al re­por­ted. That strategy — in­ten­ded to pres­sure Sen­ate Demo­crats in­to ac­cept­ing a broad­er spend­ing bill that does not in­clude funds for im­ple­ment­ing the health-care law — will likely not go far, as the White House threatened to veto those piece­meal spend­ing pro­pos­als if they reach Obama’s desk.

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