August 26, 2019

Army medical laboratory suspended

Research at Fort Detrick laboratory suspended due to failure to meet biosafety standards

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a cease and desist order for several projects at a US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland, citing a failure to meet biosafety standards. The order has halted research in the facility, which operated biosafety level 3 and biosafety level 4 laboratories focused on pathogens such as Ebola virus, plague (Yersinia pestis), tularemia, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis.

The shutdown follows a failed inspection in June. According to USAMRIID, the failure was due to factors such as a lack of recertifications for biocontainment laboratory workers and insufficient systems in place to decontaminate wastewater.

USAMRIID spokesperson Caree Vander Linden told The Frederick News-Post that no disease-causing materials have been found outside authorized areas at the facility. Vander Linden also told the News-Post that at the time of the inspection, the staff was working to modify biosafety level 3 measures and use an alternate decontamination method. These measures were necessary due to flooding at the facility in May 2018, which required the facility to switch from a steam sterilization to a chemical sterilization method.

It is not known when the laboratories will reopen, but USAMRIID says staff are still on the job. The shutdown has not affected ongoing Ebola virus research at outside laboratories that work with USAMRIID.

“We are coordinating closely with the CDC to ensure that critical, ongoing studies within bio-containment laboratories are completed under appropriate oversight and that research animals will continue to be cared for in accordance with all regulations,” Vander Linden told the News-Post. “Although much of USAMRIID’s research is currently on hold, the Institute will continue its critical clinical diagnostic mission and will still be able to provide medical and subject matter expertise as needed to support the response to an infectious disease threat or other contingency.”