Not one, but two disturbing recent government reports say the risk of accidents is increasing at US labs researching potential bioterror weapons such as anthrax. Federal officials have yet to develop national standards for their design, construction, and operation, which the Government Accountability Office called for more than three years ago. The GAO report, out today, comes as a vial containing a potentially harmful virus went missing at a University of Texas lab. The vial, containing less than a quarter of a teaspoon of an infectious disease known as Guanarito, had been stored in a locked freezer, the Houston Chronicle reports. It was discovered missing during a routine inspection, but officials don't think it was stolen, and say they aren't worried it will pose a risk.
A government audit from November also found that officials failed to detect security and safety violations at such labs during inspections, USA Today reports. Some worrying incidents from that report from the USDA inspector general auditors:
- Anthrax and plague were transferred to an unauthorized facility without officials detecting it.
- Workers at various facilities were allowed to keep working even after their security risk assessments expired.
USDA officials, however, downplayed the significance of the report and did not accept many of the recommendations. USA Today
has more on the troubling history of problems at US labs.