Labs cited for ‘serious’ security failures in research with bioterror germs

Amid concerns about the potential of a laboratory insider unleashing a deadly bioterror pathogen on the public, President Obama ordered greater scrutiny of workers with access to the riskiest microbes five years ago. The goal of the resulting regulations was to prevent something like the 2001 anthrax letter attacks — or worse — from happening again.

Federal regulators have secretly threatened to revoke permits to study bioterror pathogens from at least six labs — including those operated by Brigham Young University in Utah, the University of Hawaii-Manoa and the California Department of Public Health — because they failed to take required actions to assess the behavior and trustworthiness of their workers, plus other kinds of safety violations, records obtained by USA TODAY show.

In a letter to Brigham Young University, regulators said last year that they had “significant concerns” whether its lab staff could work with potential bioterror pathogens “in a manner which does not endanger public health and safety.” California’s Health Department lab in Richmond allowed unapproved staff to have key cards that let them into restricted areas and ”failed to address safety issues over the course of the last four years,” regulators told the lab.

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