The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) has suspended research activities involving biological select agents and toxins. Army officials took the step on Friday after discovering apparent problems with the system of accounting for high-risk microbes and biomaterials at the Fort Detrick, Maryland, facility.
The lab has been under intense scrutiny since August, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) named former USAMRIID researcher Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks. Although the case never went to trial because of Ivins’s suicide on 29 July 2008, FBI officials have claimed that the evidence against him is indisputable and that he carried out the mailings using anthrax stolen from a flask at USAMRIID.
Officials have begun a complete inventory of all select agents and toxins at the facility. All experiments using select agents will remain suspended until the accounting is finished, which could take several weeks. Several USAMRIID researchers have been grumbling about the decision, which seems to have caught them by surprise, according to a government official not connected to the lab. More here.
Army Regulation 50-1 lead to the clamp down and these strict policies should be implemented throughout existing and future labs both (private and government) that are working with select agents and toxins. Some notible restrictions under AR50-1 are based on employee risk assessment which is good news and way over due.
This chapter establishes the Biological Personnel Reliability Program (BPRP) as a tool for commanders/directors to make risk-based assessment decisions to ensure that persons with access to biological select agents and toxins (BSAT) meet high standards of reliability. The BPRP includes—
(1) Identifying positions with duties that afford access to BSAT.
(2) Designating certifying officials who will certify the reliability and suitability of individuals for the BPRP (described below).
(3) Screening, evaluating, and certifying individuals for the BPRP (Section III).
(4) Continuing evaluation in the form of periodic reinvestigations (PR), drug tests, and evaluation by supervisors, fellow workers, certifying officials, and support agency personnel, as well as self-reporting by individuals enrolled in the BPRP (Section IV).
(5) Removing an individual from BPRP duties due to medical restriction, suspension, disqualification, or administrative termination (Section V).
Requests for access by foreign nationals to BSAT under authorized visits, assignments or exchanges will be Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and mishap/incident response personnel are not required to meet the reliability standards of this chapter and will be given access to BSAT only to the extent necessary to mitigate or eliminate a hazard during an emergency.