Canada disease lab worker faces US smuggling charge
13 May 2009
13 May 2009
SASKATOON, Saskatchewan, May 13 (Reuters) - A researcher at a top-ranked Canadian infectious disease laboratory has been charged with attempting to smuggle vials of biological materials into the United States, Canadian and U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
The researcher, Konan Michel Yao, is alleged to have taken vials of basic biological materials for vaccine development from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said Renee Robert, a spokeswoman for the Public Health Agency of Canada. Yao did not take infectious pathogens, she said.
"At no time was the health of citizens at risk because the materials seized were non-infectious," Robert said, adding she doesn't know of any similar incident involving the lab.
Yao was apprehended by U.S. officials as he attempted to enter the United States at the Pembina, North Dakota, border crossing on May 5, said Mike Milne, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
Details of Yao's apprehension and current status were not immediately available.
Yao never had access to Level 3 and 4 pathogens, which include the H1N1 flu virus, HIV and Ebola virus, Robert said. He did have access to a Level 2 laboratory, similar to those at hospitals and universities, which may deal with lower-level infectious agents, she said.
Robert declined to say how Yao was able to get the vials out of the laboratory, but she said the laboratory has "very strict" controls in place.
The lab is Canada's top facility for the identification, control and prevention of infectious diseases and deals with the most deadly infectious organisms, including the Ebola virus, HIV and H1N1 flu. (Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Peter Galloway)