CDC reviewing lab access to health hazards

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reviewing all of its laboratories to determine if too many facilities have access to dangerous pathogens, the agency's director said Tuesday.

Following a series of safety breaches, lawmakers have questioned whether there are too many CDC labs handling dangerous disease samples, including anthrax and avian flu.

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CDC Director Thomas Frieden said Tuesday he believes the agency should keep to a minimum the number of labs dealing with such extreme health hazards.

“What is the minimum necessary is something we are looking at for our internal work,” he said Tuesday.

However, he cautioned that other labs outside of the CDC also have access to dangerous substances for research.

“We don’t fund labs outside of ours,” he said, highlighting the limited scope of the CDC’s review.

The CDC did not readily have numbers for how many labs it oversees. The Government Accountability Office, however, reported last year the number of such labs has rocketed from 400 in 2004 to 1,500 in 2013 spurred by the 2001 anthrax attacks.

The agency has come under heavy criticism for recent safety breaches that threatened about 80 scientists with live anthrax and for the mishandling of samples contaminated with a highly virulent strain of avian flu.

Frieden would not comment on whether he has become aware of any new safety breaches since the CDC released its most recent report but said he has instructed staffers to review safety lapses from recent years.

“We’re looking and I’ve asked the staff to look back for the last few years and see if there have been any other incidents,” he said. “I’ve asked them to look through all of their records. 

Frieden did not provide a timeline for the internal review.

“I want to give them a decent time for them to do that. It’ll be a few more weeks before we have that.”

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