CDC deadly pathogen labs could be safer, OIG report finds: 7 things to know

The CDC can do more to improve safety oversight in its labs that handle deadly pathogens, according to a review conducted by the HHS Office of the Inspector General.


The review comes after several reported mishaps at the CDC in recent years. In June 2016, CDC officials reported 34 incidents that were not disclosed to congressional investigators in which bioterrorism pathogens were mishandled. In 2014, a CDC lab technician was accidently exposed to live Ebola virus.

Here are seven things to know about the most recent OIG report.

1. The OIG report is the first of a two-part review of the CDC's oversight of the Division of Select Agents and Toxins labs. These labs house extremely deadly pathogens like Ebola and plague. They are also home to anthrax and the toxins that cause botulism and ricin poisoning, according to USA Today.

2. While the CDC met its goal of performing inspections at each DSAT lab once from 2013 through 2015, the agency fell short of meeting its goal to ensure 30 percent of lab inspections were unannounced in 2013 and 2014. Surprise lab inspections are more likely to encounter violations.

3. Over the three years, CDC inspectors identified 8,111 instances of potential noncompliance during 500 inspections across the DSAT entities. More than 60 percent of these observations were related to biosafety and security.

4. Approximately 341 "theft, loss and release events" were reported across the 275 DSAT entities from 2013 through 2015. The severity of these incidents varied widely, ranging from needle sticks to ruptures in wearable protective equipment. One such incident resulted in an illness.

5. The review found 73 percent of the labs did not report a single theft, loss and release event. Officials with the CDC expressed concern that some labs may be underreporting such events, according to the OIG review.

6. "We identified vulnerabilities of oversight that could pose a risk to public safety," said Dwayne Grant, a regional inspector general with HHS, according to USA Today. "We suggested adding guidance and training for biosafety and security, having unannounced inspections and looking for those theft, loss and release incidents and the labs that had zero."

7. Former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, a Democrat and member of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, told USA Today the work done in these CDC labs is important for both national security and public health and expressed concern regarding the Trump administration's proposed CDC budget cuts.

"It's not just bioterrorism or global pandemic, but mishaps of our own making, so these lab safety and security issues are crucial," said Mr. Daschle. "And the proposed cuts to the CDC are troubling — that's only going to exacerbate this problem dramatically."

To read the OIG's full report, click here.

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