With their Acme Rocket Skates carrying them toward the edge of the fiscal cliff at breakneck speed, the Republican-controlled House is keeping their self-proclaimed “laser-like” focus on the economy. They’re not doing this in the way we might expect, however. Apparently, this “laser-like” focus involves investigating anything which has the potential to embarrass Democrats or the Obama Administration. The whole Solyndra and Obama birth certificate thing never panned out, even though these investigations were clearly evidence of a laser-like focus on job creation.
So, the way Republicans are making sure Americans have jobs is by holding a series of extremely loud and incredibly close investigations on issues related to unemployment, such as women’s vaginas, Fast & Furious, and now minor laboratory accidents at Federal labs.
Building 18 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) campus in Atlanta, Georgia, is a $214 million facility, opened in 2005, which is supposed to be created expressly for working with hazardous organisms. However, like almost all such facilities in which I’ve worked, the building’s ventilation systems do not function as designed. I think the main problem is with scientists communicating with architects and architects communicating with workmen regarding how these facilities are supposed to work and why.
There are four levels of biosafety in use in laboratories nationwide.
Biosafety Level 1 (BSL-1) is the most common level at which work is done. Routine microbiological work, mostly with the gut bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli), is done on open benchtops at BSL-1. E. coli is the workhorse of the molecular biology researcher, and is used as a DNA “copying machine” in tens of thousands of labs nationwide.
Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) is also commonly used; I have carried out and supervised BSL-2 work. Procedures are done with light protective equipment inside a biological safety cabinet. BSL-2 organisms would include Streptococcus (which causes “strep throat”, hence the name of the disease).
Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) facilities are uncommon; there are perhaps a handful in most states, mostly associated with academic medical centers and universities doing federally-funded research. BSL-3 organisms, by definition, could cause serious disease and economic damage if they are released. BSL-3 work is always done within a biological safety cabinet and personnel always wear protective equipment. The entire BSL-3 lab is supposed to be “negative pressure” so that any air that leaks flows from (say) a hallway into the BSL-3 lab. All air coming from the BSL-3 lab is supposed to pass through a high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filter.
There are BSL-4 facilities, too, doing work on really nasty organisms like Ebola virus, but, like job creation, those are outside the scope of the present Congressional investigation.
Apparently, there have been chronic problems with Building 18. For example, on April 9, high-containment animal facilities lab manager Kismet Scarborough wrote an e-mail to a number of CDC officials including director Thomas Frieden:
[The CDC] will do anything … to hide the fact that we have serious problems with the airflow and containment in this whole building … [CDC safety officials say] it doesn’t matter if the dirty BSL 3 lab blows positive into the clean corridor as long as it is not sustained. … [This is a] totally ridiculous response … [I am] horrified and dismayed at the events surrounding safety and the fact that even though this has been taken clear up the chain of command all the way to Dr. Frieden, no one is willing to admit the mistake or more importantly fix it.
Scarborough was witness to an incident on February 16. That single incident, in which no one was harmed and no one was placed at risk, is the basis for the current Congressional investigation, led by Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Denton, TX). Trained as a medical doctor, Burgess is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that is investigating the incident, which is clearly tightly linked with job creation and economic development.
CDC safety inspector Eddie Jackson reported in his email to a top safety official that, during a tour group, a technician opened a door and the group felt air flow out of a potentially contaminated lab and into a communal hallway.
As the door closed a very noticeable puff of air could be felt coming through the slit in the window out into the ‘clean’ corridor. Don’t know whether this was a fluke or the norm, and the reason I’m commenting is one of the visitors seemed concerned and has been talking about it since we’ve come back.
Clearly, this matter has to do with job creation and merits a Congressional investigation, since no one was harmed and apparently CDC can’t be trusted to carry out their own internal investigation. Rather than let the CDC’s investigation take its course, Burgess has become involved. Just what kind of safety procedures he’s using while operating his laser to focus on the economy is not clear, but perhaps we’ll need another Congressional investigation for that issue.
- Airflow problems plague CDC bioterror lab (usatoday.com)
- Air Leak at CDC Bioterror Lab (abcnews.go.com)
- CNN: Congress investigates air leak, possible safety lapses at CDC lab (euzicasa.wordpress.com)
- Congress investigates air leak, possible safety lapses at CDC lab (cnn.com)