ATLANTA (AP) - A $214 million bioterror germ lab at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has experienced repeated problems with airflow systems, government documents and internal emails show.
The airflow systems are designed to help prevent the release of infectious agents, USA Today reported
The part of the building where the airflow problems have occurred includes labs that can be used for experiments involving anthrax, dangerous strains of influenza, the SARS coronavirus, monkeypox and other microbes that have the potential to be used as bioweapons.
In one instance in February, air from inside a potentially contaminated lab briefly blew outward into a "clean" corridor where a group of visitors weren't wearing any protective gear, according to emails obtained by the newspaper.
The federal agency says there have been no releases of germs and no one has been hurt.
Experiments are "done in an environment with highly skilled staff, technical equipment, and safety systems that unfortunately, at times, experience challenges," the CDC said in the statement.
"Fortunately, this unique facility has multiple systems in place that provide appropriate redundancy, so when there is an incident, the public's safety, as well as worker safety, is not compromised," it said.
However, a biosafety expert said the problems appear to be major violations of laboratory operating standards.
The CDC documents "raise serious concerns. There appear to be significant irregularities," Rutgers University biosafety expert Richard Ebright told USA Today.
The problems seem to be the type that CDC's inspectors "would flag as major violations in inspections of non-CDC facilities," he said.
The CDC is responsible for inspecting its own labs, as part of a federal program where it also oversees labs nationwide that work with germs or toxins that could potentially be used as bioweapons.