CDC's 'inconsistent' lab practices threaten its credibility, report says

A report on lab safety at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put together by a committee of external experts calls the agency's commitment to safety \"inconsistent and insufficient.\" The report, which was completed in January but posted on the agency's website this week, also says \"laboratory safety training is inadequate.\"

The report was put together by an external group of 11 experts in biosafety, laboratory science and research. In the report, they say they are \"very concerned that the CDC is on the way to losing credibility.\"

The agency created the advisory group to improve lab safety in July in the wake of two mishaps and other issues that were uncovered through procedural reviews.

One incident occurred in June when dozens of employees in a bioterrorism lab working with the deadly anthrax virus, were at risk because of a failure to properly follow sterilization techniques. The head of that lab resigned after the incident.

This followed a May incident in which avian influenza samples, thought to not be dangerous, were unintentionally mixed with the deadly H5N1 influenza virus and then shipped to a USDA lab.

Then in December, with the advisory group already working to reduce lab safety risks and improve the culture of safety, employees in the Ebola lab were potentially exposed to that virus when a technician mistakenly transported the wrong specimens from a high-level lab to a lower-level lab.

Internal investigations were done after each incident, and various changes were recommended such as cameras being added to some labs and certificates being required to transfer samples from some labs, following the Ebola incident.

The four-page report summarizes the groups findings and offers recommendations following visits to CDC labs, meetings with CDC staff and a survey about the laboratory safety culture at CDC.

The report recommends all CDC labs go through an external review and accreditation process. They suggest the College of American Pathologists for clinical labs and the American Biological Safety Association for research labs. To that point, the committee says in the report, \"The CDC must not see itself as special. The internal controls and rules that the rest of the world works under also apply to CDC.\"

Other recommendations include:

-- Funding for lab safety programs and standardized training.

-- Implementing risk assessments.

-- Establishing a system of responsible science and accountability.

-- Rewarding researchers who run safe labs.

-- Hiring a director to oversee lab safety.

In response to the recommendations, CDC Chief Operating Officer Sherri Berger said in a statement, \"It's critical that we continue to solicit feedback on how we can improve our operations, especially functions as critical as lab safety. We brought this group of external experts together over the summer to assist us with identifying and implementing solutions, of which many are already underway.\"

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