I can appreciate that the Trust for America’s Health thinks that our state is well prepared to protect the health of North Carolinians from diseases, disasters, and bioterrorism. And I think it’s good news that the level 4 biosecurity lab that will study incurable infectious diseases is going to Kansas instead of Butner. But I’m still concerned that our state is chock full of level 3 biosecurity labs that study such pleasant bacteria and viruses as anthrax, West Nile virus, SARS, and yellow fever.
For example, Duke University is home to a large Regional Biocontainment Lab. There have been some major scares and lax security at several of these facilities around the country including a power outage at the lab in Atlanta and unreported exposures to dangerous agents at Texas A&M University. There was even a frightening episode when an exhaust system in one of the level 3 biosafety labs at UNC failed.
A 2007 GAO report noted that no single federal agency tracks the growth and location of these level 3 and level 4 biosafety labs despite their proliferation since 2001.
I’m not sure that accountability at the state level is any better. Are there state agencies keeping close tabs on developments at the labs in North Carolina? I hope so, but I doubt that’s the case.
So while I appreciate the high marks for our state from the Trust for America’s Health, I’m not certain the praise is warranted.