Monday, March 3, 2008

UNREPORTED BIOLOGICAL ACCIDENTS

The article "U.S. Mishandling Dirty Germs" points to biological accidents and releases from labs that are only under stringent regulatory control since they are under biolevel-3 containment practices. The majority of research institutes, however, also work with other dangerous genetically engineered (GE) microbes that fall under biolevel-2 containment practices. BL-2 laboratories are not under the same stringent reporting practices or regulatory oversight even though these agents are capable of causing disease. Accidents in these labs are kept from the public’s eye since it is not in the best interest of the research institute to report them and they in fact are not mandated to do so.

In addition, since there is no specific safety training required to work with these BL2 agents, many scientists and technicians are handling dangerous biologics without knowledge of proper biocontainment and decontamination. This unfortunately could lead to an exposure to an unsuspecting and unprotected person or to the public resulting in no knowledge of an exposure but coming down with an illness. Since these GE microbes are man-made and their pathogenicity uncharacterized, their presence will be impossible to detect without appropriate exposure records and genetic sequence from the research institute. Unfortunately, even if one did know he had been exposed to a biological agent from a lab, the laws are so slanted toward biotech, that he would have no rights to exposure records for healthcare. This unfortunate scenario of inadequate regulations and oversight and no rights to exposure records continues to perpetuate the fa├žade that biotech is safe. It creates ignorance such as that stated by Mr. Raleigh above.

Although the article, "U.S. Mishandling Dirty Germs" makes gain in reporting the serious safety problems in the biotech industry, the majority of biological accidents will continue to not be reported. We, therefore, will have to look to other indicators to assess the harm done by the biotech industry from the release of biological hazards. Two such “harm” indicators will be an increase in the rate of evolution and an increase in the numbers of new emerging diseases in individuals and in small populations. And of course, an epidemic may eventually occur if these issues are not addressed.

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