We applaud the vigilance of Fort Detrick in the timely discovery and public notification of two recent events at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and the Fort Detrick Steam Sterilization Plant. In April, USAMRIID discovered that a laboratory animal and a laboratory worker were infected with tuberculosis (Frederick News-Post, April 12). In May, the steam sterilization plant at Fort Detrick was flooded by rain (News-Post, May 7), which could have released contaminated wastewater into the community. In each case, Fort Detrick coordinated its response with the county health department and informed the community of measures underway to assess risks and prevent future incidents. The Frederick Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee (CLCAC) will host representatives from Fort Detrick at a meeting July 10 to ensure that community safety concerns from these incidents are addressed. The public is welcome to attend and comment.
These recent events highlight the importance of full transparency in safety issues in biotechnology. To ensure continued public safety, the state and its first responders need to have adequate information about dangerous materials in private laboratories engaged in high-containment research. With the support of CLCAC, Delegate Karen Lewis Young introduced a bill in the last state legislative session that would require Maryland to identify high-containment laboratories. Laboratories are currently allowed to operate in Maryland researching highly infectious and pathogenic organisms without notifying their host communities. For the second year in a row, this bill cleared the House. It was defeated in the Senate, however, carrying the objection of Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, chair of the Finance Committee. It is the position of CLCAC that the people of Maryland would be safer if this bill had passed. We urge Sen. Middleton to withdraw his objection in future sessions.
Matt Sharkey, Ph.D.