Feds Fine UC For Anthrax Blunder

    The Office of Inspector General has slapped the University of California with a $450,000 fine for
    allowing an unauthorized scientist to send vials of the biological agent
    anthrax — which leaked upon being opened — in a shipment from its Lawrence
    Livermore National Laboratory in 2005.

    The breach occurred when the UC-operated laboratory shipped
    1,025 vials of bacillus anthracis — commonly referred to as anthrax — to a
    branch of the Midwest Research Institute in Palm Bay, Fla.
    in September 2005. After unpacking the shipment, employees discovered that two
    vials of the agent were uncapped, and one additional vial had a loose cap. A
    drop of liquid was found on a technician’s glove, and the shipment was then repackaged
    and moved to a storage facility, according to LLNL spokeswoman Lynda Seaver.

    Seaver said that the technicians present were immediately
    treated with Cipro — an antibiotic approved by the Food and Drug Administration
    to combat inhaled anthrax — but showed no symptoms of anthrax poisoning.

    “Less than a week later, they were back to work,” she said.
    “There was never any danger to the public.”

    The scientist who packed the vials later resigned from her
    position.

    Several layers of packaging would have made it difficult for
    the substance to reach the technicians, Seaver said, but the laboratory could
    not rule out the possibility that the substance on the glove was in fact
    anthrax.

    LLNL has been shipping biological agents fairly regularly
    since the 1960s, but this is the first occurrence of an anthrax leak, Seaver
    said.

    The OIG also alleged that at the time of the breach, the
    scientist who sent the vials lacked proper authorization to handle the agent.
    Seaver acknowledged the mistake, but said it was a procedural error and not an
    instance of any intentional misconduct.

    “The individual had the necessary authorization, but it had
    lapsed and had not been renewed,” she said. “It was a technicality.”

    Seaver said that the fine is a result of two separate
    incidents, the latter being a second shipment to Virginia — sent by the same
    scientist — where an error in paperwork led to a shipment containing more
    anthrax than it should have.

    Although the fine is the largest of 11 assessed since 2003
    for violating rules governing such biological agents, Seaver said that both
    parties ultimately agreed on the final amount.

    “We’re not disputing the fine,” she said.

    She also said that the laboratory is currently undergoing
    protocol changes to safeguard against future breaches.

    “We’ve since instituted several procedures in training to
    ensure that it won’t happen again,” she said. “We take our work with biological
    agents very seriously.”

    The Centers for Disease Control issued LLNL an unrestricted,
    three-year renewal of its select agent registration in April 2006.

    However, representatives from the Government Accountability
    Office — the investigative branch of Congress — reported last week that the
    federal government has not been adequately monitoring biocontainment
    laboratories such as LLNL, raising questions about the safety of such
    facilities.

    The University
    of California
    solely
    managed LLNL from its inception in 1952 until September 2007. The lab is
    currently run by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, of which the
    university is a member.

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