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.

Frederick

Chair, CLCAC

(3) comments

threecents

Exactly, dangerous pathogens are studied in high security, state of the are facilities at Fort Detrick, with scrupulous inspections by multiple government agencies, and any mishaps are publicly addressed, but we don't even know the locations of other labs that work with dangerous organisms, and what about clinical diagnostic labs?

Matt Sharkey

Clinical labs present a separate concern from research labs, because they usually are not aware of what infectious organisms are present in samples prior to their testing. Also, while unregistered research facilities may actively produce dangerous pathogens in high containment labs, either in Frederick County or elsewhere in Maryland, diagnostic labs do not actively grow pathogens as part of the testing process, generally speaking. Also, it is noteworthy that the U.S. Government Accountability Office has issued multiple reports over more than a decade on the proliferation of high-containment research labs in the US and on the need for coordinated oversight of these labs to better safeguard the public. I am certain that this can be done in a way that enhances rather than impedes the expansion of the biotech research and biopharmaceutical industries in our county and in our state.

threecents

Matt, In order for a clinical lab to identify a pathogen, it generally needs to grow the pathogen and run various tests on it over several days. Growing and testing these pathogens usually takes place with very lax containment compared to what is used routinely in Fort Detrick research labs. Detrick labs go through multiple sterilizations of its containment lab wastes. Their waste disposal processes are frequently evaluated by multiple agencies. What do clinical labs do with their waste? Who evaluates their procedures?

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