The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is under fire after a report by leading biohazard safety experts shows inadequacy abounds. The experts say there is “inadequate” training, lack of leadership and commitment toward safety, and a significant percentage of staff are afraid to report accidents. These issues have resulted in CDC lab mishaps that left employees potentially exposed to some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens, including bird flu, Ebola, and Anthrax.
USA Today reports that the group of external biosafety experts, which were appointed by the CDC to investigate safety concerns following lab mishaps last year involving the bird flu and Anthrax, found that the CDC is losing credibility, as the agency seems to view itself as “special” and exempt from proper safety protocol.
“We are very concerned that the CDC is on the way to losing credibility. The CDC must not see itself as ‘special’. The internal controls and rules that the rest of the world works under also apply to CDC.”
Three high-profile incidents involved extremely deadly pathogens. The most recent incident involved a lab mix-up that left a CDC lab worker exposed to the deadly Ebola virus. Another incident last year involved Anthrax. Dozens of employees with the CDC were exposed to the deadly agent used in bioterrorism. As if that wasn’t enough for one year, a CDC lab sent a specimen that was cross-contaminated with a lethal strain of avian flu without knowing it.
With three potentially devastating lab mishaps, Congress demanded that action be taken to ensure the CDC was following proper safety protocols. Therefore, the biohazard experts team was assembled. However, the findings were quite disturbing and included a laundry list of items that should be addressed within the health organization.
One major concern outlined by the safety committee involved the apprehension of lab workers to report an accident, especially among those working with the most deadly of pathogens.
“A significant percentage of CDC staff have concerns about experiencing negative repercussions, either personally or more generally to the Agency, as a result of reporting incidents involving exposures to pathogenic organisms or other hazardous materials. Some staff members working in Select Agent laboratories fear regulatory or other negative repercussions as a result of incident reporting.”
The committee noted that the CDC should focus on a “culture of responsible science and accountability,” as currently it appears that lab workers are more concerned with violating CDC “Select Agent” rules, that involve violations of transporting a pathogen, than the actual biohazard risk the mishaps posed.
“Efforts to establish a culture of responsible science and accountability are of critical importance. This culture of responsible science will require prompt and accurate reporting of incidents or breaches in standard protocol without fear of reprimand or punishment.”
What do you think about the CDC biosafety committees report? Does the CDC act as though it is “special” and does not have to abide by standard lab safety protocols?