White House Orders US Labs to Take Inventory of Infectious Agents

The White House has ordered federally funded labs working with infectious agents to conduct an immediate inventory of the pathogens in their labs and review their safety and security protocols, according to a memo released on Thursday.

The order follows a trio of high-profile mishaps at federal labs in recent months, including the mishandling of anthrax and bird flu by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the discovery of decades-old samples of smallpox in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration lab on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The memo, dated Aug. 19, was sent by the National Security Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to all federal agencies that conduct life-sciences research. A notice, which links to the memo, was posted on the OSTP website on Thursday. (here)

In the memo, the White House calls for all federal labs that handle animal or plant infectious agents or toxins to conduct a “Safety Stand-Down,” a month-long period in which senior laboratory staff must review safety and security protocols and develop a plan to routinely inventory the agents they handle.