New York University has come under fire for the deaths of lab mice during Hurricane Sandy. The storm reportedly flooded the university’s medical research laboratory. Initial news reports focused on the immense rescue efforts by the animal-care staffers. More recent stories have focused on the number of mice residing in the basement that drowned during the hurricane.
A host of NYU staffers allegedly spent the night watching over the lab animals. Scientists reportedly formed a bucket brigade to haul dry ice up more than a dozen flights of stairs to protect human organs and tissue samples used for research, according to Reuters.
A week after the glowing reports about the heroic efforts of New York University staffers emerged, allegations that the facility did not follow governmental research animal guidelines surfaced. Thousands of animals were reportedly stored in the basement of the NYU Langone Medical Center. The bulk of the animals at the building along the East River in Manhattan were mice. Approximately 200 patients were evacuated from the facility the night Hurricane Sandy arrived.
University spokeswoman Jessica Guenzel reports that the biomedical center lost 22 cages of rats and 7,660 cages of mice. Each cage holds between one and seven animals.
Board of Life Sciences Director Fran Sharples had this to say about the loss of lab animals during Hurricane Sandy:
“This happens again and again and research labs never learn. Anybody with half a brain knows you do a site-specific analysis to understand the risk of disasters, and it’s really stupid to put your animals in the basement if you’re in a flood zone.”
Sharples also notes that scientists should have known the risks associated with storing lab animals in the basement after similar problems developed during Hurricane Allison and Hurricane Katrina. During the Houston storm in 2001, thousands of dogs, monkeys, and mice were lost, according to The Washington Post. During the New Orleans storm in 2005, approximately 10,000 lab animals drowned.
A statement from New York University praised the efforts of staffers for saving what they could and notes that the building was able to withstand 20 percent of the storm surge.