They were closed last month by order of the CDC.
Frederick, Md (KM). Efforts are underway to get the biocontainment laboratories at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick up and running again. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month issued a cease and desist order for the labs which handle deadly pathogens. The agency raised concerns about a failure to follow local procedures, a lack of periodic recertification and training for employees who work in the labs, and problems with the wastewater decontamination system.
“We have been working closely with the CDC–the Centers for Disease Control–and other experts in the command to institute a wide, sweeping review of our SOP’s to insure that they reflect best practices,” say Colonel Darrin Cox, the commander of USAMRIID. SOP means Standard Operating Procedures.
He says a retraining program is being developed for employees who work in the labs. “To insure that they are codified in a manner that’s easy for folks to understand, and initiate a retraining/recertification program for folks who will be going into biocontainment,” says Colonel Cox. “All of this will occur. And then we would invite the CDC to come back for reinspection prior to resuming full operations.”
No date has been set for when the labs might reopen. “We don’t necessarily have a targeted date,” says Colonel Cox. “This is all being driven with safety of our personnel and the local community in mind.”
During the time the cease and desist order was issued, researchers at the USAMRIID biocontainment labs were working with the Ebola virus, tularemia, which is also known as deer fly or rabbit fever, along with the Plague and Venezuelan equine encephalitis. Colonel Cox says none of these pathogens escaped from the labs. “All of the pathogens have been contained,” he said. “There’s been no loss of containment or discharge into the community.”
There are labs at USAMRIID which perform diagnostic work and don’t handle pathogens. Colonel Cox says those laboratories are still operating.
He also says he’s optimistic about how this whole situation will turn out in the end. “I am very confident that USAMRIID has a bright future,” says Colonel Cox. “It is filled with dedicated, talented individuals.”
By Kevin McManus