Oversight committees in both the Senate and the House of
Representatives are weighing whether the potential exposure of 84
people to one of the deadliest strains of anthrax at CDC facilities
in Atlanta could merit formal congressional hearings, aides said.
One of the panels, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Committee, is "closely monitoring" the situation and early next week
"will make a formal request to CDC Director Tom Frieden for
additional follow-up information," said Allison Preiss, a
spokeswoman for Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the panel's
The CDC said it will cede control of the investigation to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture "to avoid potential conflicts of
Lawmakers and aides say the breach is only the latest problem
involving safety protocols intended to protect agency employees and
visitors at a bioterror lab on the CDC campus, known as Building 18.
Two years ago, visitors to the bioterror lab were inadvertently
exposed to air from a potentially contaminated facility. On
Thursday, CDC disclosed that a bioterror lab sent samples that may
have contained live anthrax bacteria to two lower-security
facilities, potentially exposing at least 84 people to the deadly
"This certainly may rise to the level of a congressional hearing,
especially in light of the fact that not too terribly long ago there
were other incidents. Although they're unrelated, they both speak to
a breakdown in protocol," said Republican Representative Michael
Burgess, a physician who sits on a second CDC oversight panel, the
House Energy and Commerce Committee.
"It just begs the question, are the proper procedures and protocols
in place to protect personnel?" he added. "It doesn't take much of a
breach to create a significant problem for a significant number of
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An aide with Burgess' committee said staff were monitoring the
situation closely to determine whether further steps should be
taken. In 2012, the panel investigated the air flow problems and
other issues and was assured by CDC officials that the problems had
been addressed, the aide said.
High-containment laboratories, which conduct research on potential
bio-weapon agents, including anthrax and Ebola, have proliferated
since the 2001 anthrax attacks in which spores mailed to news media
offices and two U.S. senators killed five people and infected 17
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned Congress of an
increased risk of laboratory accidents last year, saying the labs
lack oversight and operate with no national safety standards.
The GAO recommended that the administration make a single federal
agency responsible for assessing lab standards, but said in its
February 2013 report that the administration rejected the
recommendation as "unnecessarily broad and cumbersome."
(Reporting by David Morgan, editing by G Crosse, Bernard Orr)
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