Fed Shutdown Hampers Inspections of Biothreat Labs

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Facilities that research dangerous diseases for which there are no remedies will not be routinely examined, CDC says.

U.S. laboratories that conduct sensitive research involving some of the most deadly diseases will not be regularly inspected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control because of the federal government shutdown that started Tuesday, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy said in an article published Tuesday.

CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said Biosafety Level 3 and 4 facilities, which carry out research into highly dangerous diseases for which there are no or insufficient remedies, will not be routinely examined while most government functions are closed because of a congressional budget battle.

Because of the dangers posed by diseases studied at these laboratories, CDC officials are supposed to regularly inspect them to make sure that all proper security and safety procedures are carried out to minimize the chances of an accidental release into the environment or theft by a bad actor of a pathogen.

Absent regular CDC inspections of BSL-3 and 4 laboratories, there is a higher chance of safety and security problems going undiscovered.

In 2012, it was learned that a CDC-operated BSL-3 laboratory in Atlanta had experienced numerous problems with technology intended to prevent disease particles from escaping into the air outside the research space. Though no pathogens were being handled during the period when the air-filtration technology was not working correctly, and thus were not at risk of escaping into the environment, the incident raised concerns about biosafety and about the appropriateness of the CDC inspecting itself.

Spending for the Strategic National Stockpile of weapons-of-mass-destruction medical countermeasures will not be impacted by the federal shutdown, according to the Health and Human Services Agency.

Much of the federal government ceased operations after midnight Monday, when fiscal 2014 started on Oct. 1, as Democrats in charge of the Senate and Republicans running the House remained at odds over a temporary budget to keep the government running. Democrats are refusing to heed the GOP's attempts, in a House spending bill, to end or limit President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

House Republicans have introduced several different budget measures that call for continue funding at fiscal 2013 levels through Dec. 15 for politically sensitive and popular federal programs such as the National Institutes of Health, the Wall Street Journal reported. That strategy -- intended to pressure Senate Democrats into accepting a broader spending bill that does not include funds for implementing the health-care law -- will likely not go far, as the White House threatened to vetothose piecemeal spending proposals if they reach Obama's desk.

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