Just when we we starting to breathe a sigh of relief, that nothing toxic appears to have escaped New Orleans’ anthrax labs. Now comes word, from the Star-Ledger, that three mice “carrying deadly strains of plague” have disappeared from the biodefense lab at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, N.J.
State Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs said mice infected with plague die “very fast,” so “the risk to the public … is probably slim to none. We didn’t think — nor did the CDC think — there was any public health threat…”
Infectious-disease experts… called the episode … very troubling — raising serious issues of security and control…
Richard H. Ebright, a Rutgers University microbiologist and a critic of the government’s rapid expansion of bio-terrorism labs… noted there has been a series of serious incidents across the country involving accidental human infections at several of the labs working with agents like anthrax and plague. At the same time, he said, federal guidelines call for only minimal security — a lock on the lab door and a lock on the sample container and cage.
“You have more security at a McDonald’s than at some of these facilities,” he said.
THERE’S MORE: Back in April of ’03, I profiled the lab’s chief, pacificst-turned-biodefender Nancy Connell, for Wired News.
AND MORE: Want an idea of how little oversight there is of these biodefense labs?
New Jersey… does not know how many labs in the state are actually conducting experiments involving lethal bacteria or viruses.
It was just Wednesday that the Emergency Health Powers Act was signed into law, requiring all people, companies or institutions working with or possessing disease strains that can be used for biological weapons to register with the state Department of Health and Senior Servicers.