In the wake of several high-profile laboratory safety incidents involving smallpox, anthrax, and dangerous flu strains, the U.S. government is planning to ask federally funded laboratories to pause all work involving “high-consequence” pathogens for 24 hours in order to inventory stocks, according to groups that represent research universities.
“Essentially, what the government will request is a short term on the order of 24 hours suspension of research involving high-consequence pathogens in order to allow institutional lab personnel to take stock of what pathogens they have stored in freezers, cold rooms, etc.,” reads a memo distributed to universities today and signed by Carol Blum of the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) in Washington, D.C.
Also, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced today that September will be “National Biosafety Stewardship Month.”
The stand-down directive is expected to come soon from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the memo states, and be delivered to labs through funding agencies. The exact language of the OSTP memo is not yet known. Several agencies, including the Department of Veteran Affairs, appear to have already begun the process.
In what appears to be a related move, NIH issued a notice urging institutions to take heed of the recent biosafety incidents. “Recent reports of lapses in biosafety practices involving Federal laboratories have served to remind us of the importance of constant vigilance over our implementation of biosafety standards,” the notice states. It says that in September, NIH and other federal agencies will observe National Biosafety Stewardship Month. Their labs will inventory their collections of infectious agents and toxins and review biosafety protocols and training procedures. NIH’s grantee institutions “are encouraged” to do the same.