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Biodefense and defensiveness at Texas A&M

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their final report on the lab mishaps at Texas A&M University, a damning 21-page laundry list of the university’s incompetence.

The report also details the corrective actions necessary to get the biodefense labs, which have been shut down for more than two months, up and running again.

Speaking at a press conference earlier today, Eddie Davis, the university’s interim president, said university officials weren’t happy about the level of compliance.

I wrote about this story for our September issue, but in short, the problems at Texas A&M began in February 2006 when a researcher at Texas A&M University stuck her head and arm inside an aerosol chamber to spray the walls with disinfectant and developed the bacterial infection brucellosis. The university managed to keep the incident under wraps for over a year but the CDC eventually found out and ordered the labs closed.

The CDC’s report finds among other things that “administrative controls to prevent workers from being exposed to biohazards were not adequate” and that “most of the workers assigned to support the high-containment labs were unaware of the potential hazards of their work environment.”

These are serious charges but at the press conference, Davis seemed defensive rather than contrite. He claimed that missing vials of dangerous agents were likely to have been the result of inventory problems and later added, “Other institutions under that same level of review would probably have findings that could be reportable to the CDC.”

That’s a sobering thought given the extent and seriousness of the safety breaches at Texas A&M. For all our sakes, I hope he’s wrong.

Posted on behalf of Cassandra Willyard, Nature Medicine’s news intern.

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