Prompted by the Food and Drug Administration’s July 1 discovery of vials of smallpox virus in Bldg. 29A, NIH has embarked on Operation Clean Sweep, a two-part, top-to-bottom inventory of all NIH laboratories that starts first with all institutes and centers, followed by an audit conducted by specialists in occupational safety and health.
After discovery of 12 boxes containing 327 vials of infectious agents such as smallpox, dengue, influenza, Q fever and rickettsia, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins informed employees, “We have developed a plan of action for the conduct of this search. It requires investigators to examine all freezers, refrigerators, cold rooms, storage shelves and cabinets, as well as all other areas of storage such as offices associated with laboratories.”
The IC portion of the sweep has two parts, said Jeff Potts, NIH biorisk manager in the Division of Occupational Health and Safety (DOHS). “In phase 1, research staff at all NIH facilities are responsible for going through their areas to search for unregistered select agents [such as Ebola, anthrax and H5N1 bird flu]. They must also inventory all human pathogenic material that is handled at BSL [biosafety level] 2 or higher, human blood and body fluids and any toxins.” This is scheduled to be done by Sept. 30.