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CDC to Army Lab: 'Cease and Desist' Studying Deadly Germs

Maryland's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases temporarily shuttered over safety concerns
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 6, 2019 7:33 AM CDT
Biohazard suits hang inside a laboratory suite at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md., on Aug. 10, 2011.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(Newser) – A "cease and desist" order from the Centers for Disease Control has been issued, a military biodefense lab has been shuttered, and "research is currently on hold" there, possibly for months. The issue: safety worries that cropped up over processes used to contain dozens of dangerous toxins and "special agents" (ie, ones that cause anthrax and Ebola) studied there. Specifically, the 900-employee US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md., has cited a lack of "sufficient systems in place to decontaminate wastewater" as one reason for the shutdown, per a lab statement, with the CDC adding that "national security reasons" prevent it from releasing many more details. Lab rep Caree Vander Linden stresses to the New York Times that the public wasn't at risk (nothing escaped the lab environment) and that no employees have been hurt.

The Frederick News-Post first reported on the lab closure last week, which came after a CDC inspection in June in which "several areas of concern" were found, including the wastewater issue, a failure to follow protocol during certain processes, and no periodic recertification training for employees working in a biocontainment capacity. If issues with the chemical-based decontamination system can't be resolved, the lab might have to revert back to a heat-based system, which one Rutgers University bioweapons expert tells the Times could mean "very long delays and very high costs." A similar shuttering at the lab happened a decade ago, after it was found pathogens being kept there weren't properly documented in the appropriate database. (A microbiologist at the lab was a prime suspect in the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks.)

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