The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shut down biosafety laboratories at Fort Detrick last month, yet the public didn’t know. And that’s simply unacceptable.
The CDC sent a letter on July 15 shutting down level 3 and 4 labs at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. The CDC found deficiencies with the labs where infectious diseases such as the Ebola virus, plague and Venezuelan equine encephalitis are studied.
Those labs, operated by USAMRIID, failed to follow local procedures, lacked periodic recertification training of employees, and had problems with the wastewater decontamination system.
Yet it took several weeks before details about the shutdown were released to the public and, even then, those details came out only after Detrick representatives were pressed by a Frederick News-Post reporter who had received an anonymous tip about what was going on.
Fort Detrick officials had told the local health department and some Frederick County leaders, who, in fairness to them, expected the Army post to communicate with the public. But the word never filtered out.
It’s just not smart for Fort Detrick to drag its feet in letting people know. It’s bad enough that some in the community are nervous about it because it tests some of the deadliest pathogens on the planet. You’d think that officials there would want to get out in front of the story, particularly in a case where the public was never at risk.
Instead, they allowed a few days of sometimes wild speculation about what the CDC’s actions meant. We saw a number of online commenters, for instance, who filled the information gap with their version of the “truth.”
We expect a public community institution such as Fort Detrick to be as transparent as possible, particularly when it comes to safety issues on post.
Apparently, we’re not alone. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote to Ryan D. McCarthy, acting secretary of the Army, asking for more details about the lab shutdown and why his office wasn’t informed. He learned about the shutdown from media reports.
Van Hollen also wants to know how the shutdown will affect further research. Considering that the post is the largest employer in Frederick County, we’d like to know that too.
We’d also like to see Fort Detrick leaders sit down with local officials to review the guidelines and recommendations agreed upon in 2010 to see if they are still applicable given the current health and safety risks on post. Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick) told a Frederick News-Post reporter the same earlier this week.
To be clear, we aren’t questioning the importance of the work being done in the Fort Detrick labs. On the contrary, much of the research going on there helps not only find ways to protect our military troops who may be exposed to a variety of diseases, but it can also lead to health care advances from which we can all benefit.
If Fort Detrick is to be a good neighbor, there needs to be trust. But there won’t be trust if there’s not transparency when issues arise. Fort Detrick failed in this instance. We hope they don’t again.