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White House orders federal labs to review safety measures

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Washington – Federal departments and agencies that deal with infectious agents need to review their safety and security practices, according to a recent White House memo.

The memo, sent Aug. 19 by the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, urged all federal departments and agencies – as well as “extramural facilities” that receive federal funding – that work with animal or plant infectious agents or toxins to perform a safety stand-down within 30 days. Senior leaders are expected to review laboratory safety practices and plan for monitoring inventory of the agents. Departments and agencies should provide written documentation of their activities by Oct. 15, the memo states.

Federal and non-federal committees will review and make recommendations to improve government safety and security practices for federally funded operations, according to the memo.

An Aug. 28 blog post accompanying the memo encourages non-federal scientists who work with infectious diseases to help with the process.

The memo comes after recent incidents of federal labs mishandling infectious agents, including anthrax and bird flu.