A laboratory operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is among the handful of facilities that have secretly had their permits suspended in recent years for serious safety violations while working with bioterror pathogens, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY after winning a Freedom of Information Act appeal.
The CDC’s own labs also have been referred for additional secret federal enforcement actions six times because of serious or repeated violations in how they’ve handled certain viruses, bacteria and toxins that are heavily regulated because of their potential use as bioweapons, the CDC admitted for the first time on Tuesday. Before USA TODAY won access to records of the lab suspension, the CDC had repeatedly refused to answer questions about its own labs’ enforcement histories.
The revelations show the CDC’s facilities are among a small group of biolab operators that have the worst regulatory histories in the country, receiving repeated sanctions under federal regulations.
Citing security reasons and a federal bioterrorism law, the names of labs that have been suspended or faced other enforcement actions have been a closely guarded secret by the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The two agencies not only operate high-security biolabs, but they also co-run the Federal Select Agent Program that regulates government, university, military and private labs that work with bioterror pathogens such as anthrax, plague and Ebola. The government calls these kinds of pathogens “select agents.”
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