#TBT: CDC Pledged Enhanced Safety Measures in 2012 Document, But “Insufficient Culture of Safety” Remained

July 17, 2014

The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), on Wednesday held a hearing to explore the recent safety lapses at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involving anthrax, smallpox, and an avian influenza virus. CDC Director Tom Frieden acknowledged to the committee that these recent incidents together raise serious red flags, and “the pattern is an insufficient culture of safety.” But as full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) noted yesterday, the CDC previously assured the committee in 2012 that it was taking critical steps to improve safety.

Frieden assured committee leaders in a September 4, 2012, response to a letter from committee leaders following a 2012 incident at the CDC’s Building 18 in Atlanta, Georgia. Chairman Upton explained, the CDC “outlined the agency’s efforts to ensure better oversight and safe handling of select agents at CDC labs.” However, “These measures sound very similar to the corrective actions Dr. Frieden outlined last Friday to address the current lab crisis. Why should we believe this time that things will be different?”

The troubling pattern has only continued to mushroom. The Washington Post now reports, “Federal officials found more than just long-forgotten smallpox samples recently in a storage room on the National Institutes for Health campus in Bethesda, MD. The discovery included 12 boxes and 327 vials holding an array of pathogens, including the virus behind the tropical disease dengue and the bacteria that can cause spotted fever… Both the smallpox discovery and the previously undisclosed safety lapses at the CDC have sowed doubt about how the nation’s premier public health and research institutions are safeguarding some of the most lethal organisms on Earth.”

Read the complete 2012 letter from Frieden online here