Operator Speaking by Zachary Constantine

Biocontainment: Rare but Major Emergencies

2008-10-18 03:21:17 // The Operator

“Most of the trouble in this world has been caused by folks who can’t mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus has.”

- William Seward Burroughs in “My Own Business”

Loss of All Systems Including UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) and Emergency Generators (This possibility is remote because of the thorough redundancy built into design of the Lab)

  • If this happens, a battery operated amber strobe warning light will be activated at 4 flashes per second, and sudden and complete loss of primary breathing air also will signal the condition.
  • Quickly secure infectious materials.
  • The magnetic interlocks on all lab doors will be automatically unlocked permitting manual egress.
  • Exit through chemical shower in pairs, and sponge ventilated suits from disinfectant containers located in shower.

- Emergency Response in Biosafety Level 4

Smallpox is a brutal killer.

During the 20th century, it is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths. In the early 1950s an estimated 50 million cases of smallpox occurred in the world each year. As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year.

- Smallpox entry at Wikipedia

Smallpox is a highly contagious threat. Some say that the threat has passed.

[Smallpox] was one of the world’s most feared diseases until it was eradicated by a collaborative global vaccination programme led by the World Health Organization. The last known natural case was in Somalia in 1977. Since then, the only known cases were caused by a laboratory accident in 1978 in Birmingham, England, which killed one person and caused a limited outbreak. Smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1979.

- Smallpox entry at the World Health Organization

Depending upon one’s task, smallpox could be an effective tool.

If used as a biological weapon, smallpox represents a serious threat to civilian populations because of its case-fatality rate of 30% or more among unvaccinated persons and the absence of specific therapy. Although smallpox has long been feared as the most devastating of all infectious diseases, its potential for devastation today is far greater than at any previous time. Routine vaccination throughout the United States ceased more than 25 years ago. In a now highly susceptible, mobile population, smallpox would be able to spread widely and rapidly throughout this country and the world.

- Smallpox as a Biological Weapon article at the
Journal of the American Medical Association

Apparently someone has found a use for it.

Declaration pursuant to section 319F-3 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 247d6d) to provide targeted liability protections for smallpox countermeasures based on a credible risk that the threat of exposure to variola virus, the causative agent of smallpox or other orthopoxvirus and the resulting disease constitutes a public health emergency.

- Declaration Under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act

What are the chances that we’ll see an outbreak of smallpox, H5N1, Sabia, Lassa, Ebola, or some as-yet-unnamed agent from one of the ostensibly “secure” Biosafety Level 4 labs conveniently located near populated areas?

Date Agent Location Incident Type Reference
Prepared from PDF document:
Mistakes Happen: Accidents and Security Breaches at Biocontainment Facilities
9/11/01 Anthrax Fort Detrick, MD Intentional Release Timothy D. Read, et al. “Comparative Genomic Sequencing for Discovery of Novel Polymorphisms in Bacillus Anthracis,” Science, 6/14/2002, Vol. 296, pp. 2028-33
4/1/02 Anthrax Fort Detrick, MD Accidental Release, Exposure of Personnel David Dishneau, “Fort Detrick worker tests positive for anthrax exposure,” Associated Press, 4/19/2002
4/2/02 Anthrax Fort Detrick, MD Accidental Release, Exposure of Personnel Rick Weiss & David Snyder, “Anthrax Leaks a 2nd Time at Army Lab,” Washington Post, 4/24/2002, B1.
Early 1990′s Anthrax, Ebola, [unknowns] Fort Detrick, MD Missing Samples Rick Weiss and Joby Warrick, “Army Lost Track of Antrax Bacteria,” Washington Post, 1/21/2002, p. A1
5/7/02 [None Reported] U.S. Department of Agriculture (various sites) Containment / Security Failure “Report Finds Easy Lab Access to Deadly Pathogens,” Reuters, May 7, 2002
3/1/03 West Nile Virus Columbus, OH Accidental Release “Package Carrying West Nile Explodes at Columbus Airport,” Associated Press, 3/20/2003
6/1/03 Brucellosis, Anthrax, Ebola, [unknowns] Fort Detrick, MD Environmental Release Lois Ember, “Fort Detrick Cleans Up,” Chemical & Engineering News, 6/2/2003, p. 12
11/28/03 Anthrax U.S. Army laboratories Intentional Release Gary Matsumoto, “Anthrax Powder: State of the Art?” Science, Vol. 302, November 28, 2003, p.1492-97
12/2/03 [None Reported] Plum Island Animal Disease Laboratory, USDA (Plum Island, NY) Containment / Security Failure Marc Santora, “Power Fails for Three Hours at Plum Island Infectious Disease Lab,” New York Times, December 20, 2002, p. B1
12/03-1/04 Tuberculosis Infectious Disease Research Institute Containment Failure / Infection of Personnel Washington Department of Labor and Industries, “Inspection Information” (Sunshine Project, April 18, 2005)
8/29/05 Bubonic Plague Public Health Research Institute at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Missing Samples Josh Margolin and Ted Sherman, “Lab loses track of three mice that had plague,” Star-Ledger , 9/15/05

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