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article imageDeadly toxins found improperly stored, forgotten in NIH, FDA labs

By Greta McClain     Sep 6, 2014 in World
Bethesda - Officials are confirming that an alarming number of improperly stored vials containing highly dangerous pathogens have been located in various federal government laboratories.
On July 1st of this year, vials containing smallpox were located in a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laboratory storage area at the the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Bethesda campus. Officials with the FDA contacted members of the Division of Select Agents and Toxins (DSAT) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and alerted them of the discovery. A week later, the CDC issued a statement saying the vials, which appeared to be from the 1950s, were transported to CDC’s high-containment facility in Atlanta for safe storage. Due to the potential security threat posed if the vials had fallen into the hands of terrorists, the FBI was also alerted. FBI spokesman Christopher M. Allen to the Washington Post:
“Due to the potential bio-safety and bio-security issues involved, the FBI worked with CDC and NIH to ensure safe packaging and secure transport of the materials.”
Since that discovery, officials have been conducting an unprecedented sweep of government laboratories in an effort to determine if any other dangerous pathogens are being improperly stored in buildings at the Bethesda campus. Yesterday, officials with the NIH confirmed they have found an additional five vials of misplaced biological materials. The vials reportedly contained ricin, botulism, a neurotoxin, as well as vials containing the bacteria that causes plague, tularemia and a rare tropical infection called melioidosis. According to an Associated Press report, the
ricin vials were found in a box dating from 1914 and are believed to be 85 to 100 years old.
Each of the agents found are considered to be "select agents" by the CDC's Federal Select Agent Program, meaning they are required to be kept in specially secured facilities like the CDC’s high-containment facility. The NIH labs in which the vials were found are not certified to use select agents. Alfred Johnson, director of the NIH's office of research services, said the vials "were stored in locations where they should not have been stored”, before going on to say the NIH conducts research "on the most dangerous materials out there. All of these were found in containers that were intact, and there have been no exposures. It reminds us, just like my garage at home, that from time to time, we need to check.”
The NIH appears to be taking the discovery of these dangerous and deadly toxins seriously. NIH Director, Francis Collins, issued a memo to employees saying:
“NIH takes this matter very seriously. The finding of these agents and toxins highlights the need for constant vigilance in monitoring laboratory materials in compliance with federal regulations on biosafety.”
The NIH findings were not the only dangerous materials found. Officials with the FDA also confirmed vials of staphylococcal enterotoxin were found at one of their Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition laboratories. The vials were transferred to a registered lab and later destroyed. When quested about the vials, officials with the FDA said:
“I’m happy to report that in the cold room inventories across the agency, we have not found any other stocks of unexpected hazardous biological materials. There’s always a chance that something will be where it’s not supposed to be, and we want to make sure that’s not the case.”
More about National institute of health, food and drug administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Toxins, Pathogens
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