In July, almost two dozen different government laboratories were locked down after over 80 employees at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta were potentially exposed to live Anthrax.
A subsequent internal investigation revealed a systemic problem of safety lapses at the nation’s top health agency.
In the ensuing investigation, four other incidents were uncovered, in which live and deadly pathogens were mishandled. This included an event in March of 2014 when a sample of Avian Flu strain H5N1 was contaminated with a more lethal strain of the virus, and then shipped to a USDA laboratory facility without adequate protections.
“Safety protocols were in place but they weren’t followed…We take it very seriously”
– Benjamin Haynes, CDC Spokesperson
The CDC moved quickly and imposed a freeze on 23 laboratories transferring specific lethal materials until they passed rigorous and stringent safety inspections. The CDC also set up a panel of 11 independent experts to address the safety standards and procedures.
Although no one was sickened in the Anthrax exposure, the investigation dug up numerous missteps which included the bacteria being held in unlocked refrigerators in unrestricted hallways. In the Avian Flu case, shortcuts led to cross-contamination with other, more aggressive strains.
By August, a dozen laboratories had reopened, and a new safety panel made recommendations to improve oversight.
There’s 99 more stories from 2014. Check out the Best of 2014 series here.