This testimony discusses our report on a national strategy for high-containment laboratories that deal with dangerous–pathogens also known as biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) laboratories and biosafety level-4 (BSL-4) laboratories–in the United States, which was released yesterday. The number of high-containment laboratories that work with dangerous biological pathogens have proliferated in recent years. In 2007, we reported on several issues associated with the proliferation of high-containment laboratories in the United States, including risks posed by biosafety incidents that have occurred in the past. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s allegation in August 2008 that a scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases was the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks raised additional concerns about the possibility of insider misuse of high-containment laboratory facilities, material, and technology. The public is concerned about these laboratories because the deliberate or accidental release of biological agents can have disastrous consequences by exposing workers and the public to dangerous pathogens. Highly publicized laboratory errors and controversies about where high-containment laboratories should be located have raised questions about whether the governing framework, oversight, and standards for biosafety and biosecurity measures are adequate. In this context, Congress asked us to address the following questions: 1. To what extent, and in what areas, has the number of high-containment laboratories increased in the United States? 2. Which federal agency is responsible for tracking the expansion of high-containment laboratories and determining the associated aggregate risks? 3. What lessons can be learned from highly publicized incidents at high-containment laboratories and actions taken by the regulatory agencies?
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U.S. laboratories working with dangerous biological pathogens have proliferated in recent years. As a result, the public is concerned about the oversight of these laboratories. The GAO was asked to determine (1) to what extent, and in what areas, the number of high-containment laboratories has increased in the United States, (2) which federal agency is responsible for tracking this expansion and determining the associated aggregate risks, and (3) lessons learned from highly publicized incidents at these laboratories and actions taken by the regulatory agencies. GAO surveyed and interviewed federal agency officials, consulted with experts in microbiology, reviewed literature, conducted site visits, and analyzed incidents at high-containment laboratories.
- September 1, 2009
Highlights & Happenings provides brief, informative updates on important events and newsworthy items related to biosecurity and bioterrorism. It covers a broad array of topics, including, for example, new advances in bioresearch that could affect national security, the status of biopreparedness and response, emerging legal issues affecting vaccine and other countermeasure development and delivery, and noteworthy meetings, conferences, and reports. Readers may submit items of interest to the column’s editors, Julie Samia Mair and Michael Mair, through the Journal’s editorial office at [email protected]
- February 22, 2012
Hitting America’s Soft underbelly: The Potential Threat of Deliberate Biological Attacks Against the U.S. Agricultural and Food Industry
This study aims to expand the current debate on domestic homeland security by assessing the vulnerabilities of the agricultural sector and the food chain to a deliberate act of biological terrorism. The author presents the current state of research on threats to agricultural livestock and produce, outlines the sector’s importance to the U.S. economy, examines the capabilities that are needed to exploit the vulnerabilities in the food industry, and explores the likely outcomes of a successful attack. The author addresses the question of why terrorists have yet to employ agricultural assaults as a method of operation and offers proposed recommendations for the U.S. policymaking community.
By Peter Chalk
- June 22, 2011
Homeland Defense: Planning, Resourcing, and Training Issues Challenge DOD’s Response to Domestic Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosive Incidents
This report addresses the extent to which (1) DOD’s CBRNE consequence management plans and capabilities are integrated with other federal plans; (2) DOD has planned for and structured its force to provide CBRNE consequence management assistance; (3) DOD’s CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces (CCMRF) are prepared for their mission; and (4) DOD has CCMRF funding plans that are linked to requirements for specialized CBRNE capabilities.
- October 6, 2009