- Chambers are Located in Nine US States, India, New Zealand,
and Northern Ireland
- AUSTIN, TX - A leaky aerosol chamber manufactured by
the University of Wisconsin at Madison was responsible for three laboratory-acquired
tuberculosis infections in a Seattle BSL-3 lab last year. The infections
have not been made public until now. Nearly twenty Madison chambers exist
across the US and in India, New Zealand, and Northern Ireland. While tuberculosis
is not a biological weapons agent, the accident underscores the inherent
dangers when working with dangerous disease agents, and the grave safety
risks of the US biodefense program, which is encouraging more scientists
to deliberately aerosolize bioweapons agents in Madison chambers and similar
- The Madison chamber incident is the latest to be reported
in a series of US lab accidents, including infections and/or mishandling
of anthrax, tularemia, and pandemic influenza. At the encouragement of
the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Madison chambers have been purchased
for use in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, Georgia,
Texas, Colorado, Wisconsin, and California, as well as India, Northern
Ireland, and New Zealand. More of the suspect chambers may be in use; but
the legal counsel of the University of Wisconsin at Madison has refused
to answer questions and has been reluctant to promptly answer requests
filed under Wisconsin open records law.
- The Chamber
- The Madison aerosol chamber is a specialized type of
lab equipment. The chamber is used to infect animals with disease through
their lungs. Cultures of organisms causing tuberculosis or the bioweapons
agents anthrax, Q fever, or brucella and others are placed in a part of
the device called a nebulizer, which mixes the agents with air. The resulting
aerosol is directed into a metal chamber in which animals have been placed
on racks. The animals then breathe in the agent. The integrity of the complicated
device's "O rings", seals, and other fittings is critical to
preventing the aerosols from escaping the chamber and causing accidental
infections. But the Madison chamber in Seattle, Washington leaks badly,
and in 2004 it caused three laboratory-acquired tuberculosis infections
at a BSL-3 lab shared by Corixa Corporation and the Infectious Disease
Research Institute (IRDI).
- In late 2003, the Seattle lab began using a Madison aerosol
chamber to infect guinea pigs with tuberculosis. Several batches were exposed
over a period of months. By March 2004, a serious problem was detected
when three employees, who previously tested negative for tuberculosis,
came back with positive tests, or "conversions", indicating that
they had been exposed to the agent.
- The State of Washington opened an investigation. The
State's report was obtained by the Sunshine Project and is available at
our website. According to the report, in 2003 the IDRI team was trained
to use the chamber by its inventor, a professor at Texas A&M University.
IDRI was also trained by representatives of the University of Wisconsin
at Madison. According to the State of Washington's investigation, Dr. David
McMurray, the inventor and a tuberculosis researcher, made audacious safety
claims about the chamber. The report says that McMurray claimed that "the
chamber was so safe that there was no need to even locate it in a BSL-3
environment", that it was "foolproof", and that "respirator
use was not necessary".
- The Leaks
- Interviews with IDRI staff by state investigators revealed
that a leaky airflow meter was probably responsible for the infections.
The investigation also revealed that IDRI staff had repeatedly encountered
other dangerous problems. The chamber operator told state investigators
"the Chamber seals deteriorate quickly, crack and last about a month"
and in June 2004, well after the first problems were thought to be fixed,
"another big leak was recently found." Another researcher said
"several seals of the Chamber were found to be cracked". IDRI
does not conduct biodefense research.
- Leak Replicated - But No Apparent Safety Advisory
- The airflow meter also leaked in tests of a Madison chamber
located in Fort Collins, Colorado. Although the University of Wisconsin
at Madison was contacted by the State of Washington in the course of the
investigation, two Madison aerosol chamber customers contacted by the Sunshine
Project say that they have not received any safety advisories. Nor has
the chamber's manual been changed in response to the State's findings.
The current manual, obtained by the Sunshine Project under Wisconsin open
records law, is dated 22 April 2002.
- Biodefense Use
- Many Madison chambers are used for tuberculosis studies;
but others are used for biodefense. In December 2003, the Madison chamber
was presented at a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease
(NIAID) biodefense workshop. Biodefense use includes: At Texas A&M
University, scientists are using it to aerosolize brucella and Q fever.
At the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, it is used by an
anthrax researcher funded by the Department of Defense and NIAID. With
NIAID encouragement, other biodefense projects using the Madison chamber
are likely planned or even underway.
- Known Madison Aerosol Chambers and Locations*
- University of California San Francisco, CA
- Corixa / Colorado State Univ. Fort Collins, CO
- Yale University New Haven, CT
- University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, NC
- University of Georgia Athens, GA
- Harvard University Cambridge, MA (possibly
- Corixa / IDRI Seattle, WA
- HHMI / Albert Einstein Univ. Bronx, NY
- Rockefeller University New York, NY
- University of Texas HSC San Antonio, TX
- Univ. of Texas Medical Branch Galveston, TX
- University of Texas HSC Tyler, TX
- Texas A&M University College Station,
TX (possibly 2 chambers)
- University of Wisconsin Madison, WI (presumed)
- Queens University Belfast, N. Ireland
- Astra Zeneca Bangalore, India
- AgResearch Wallaceville Upper Hutt, New Zealand
- * Some chambers may not yet be delivered. Source: Open
Records requests to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and "Pulmonary
Delivery of Mycobacteria and Other Respiratory Pathogens to Small Animals
in a Specially-Designed Aerosol Chamber", presentation to the NIAID
Workshop "Aerosol Challenge Technology and Applications in Biodefense",
Bethesda, 3 December 2003, URL: http://www2.niaid.nih.gov/Biodefense/Research/AEROSOL/davemcmurray.htm
- The Sunshine Project has been calling attention to the
safety and security dangers of the US biodefense program since 2000. This
case underscores how the 'precise, clean and neat' public image of BSL-3
and BSL-4 facilities that is promoted by NIAID and labs is frequently at
odds with messy and risky realities.
- According to the Sunshine Project's Edward Hammond, "It
should not fall to a small non-profit to reveal incidents such as this
one. In this case, the institutions involved apparently didn't even inform
their peers about the problems. Public safety and an informed debate about
the biodefense program require the government to mandate public disclosure
of all significant lab accidents. This may be more cold water on overheated
biodefense safety claims; but we frankly wonder how many more serious problems
have been kept out of the public eye."
- The United States does not have comprehensive laboratory
safety law. The Madison chamber failure and consequent lab-acquired infections
are yet more evidence of the urgent need for binding laboratory biosafety
law, backed by enforceable international standards.
- "Dr. Spencer Wells, a population geneticist at the
[National Geographic] society who is leading the program, said he hoped
to head off charges of exploitation by offering money to the tribes for
education and cultural preservation."
- - New York Times on HGDP: Reloaded, 13 April 2005
- Patricia A. Doyle, PhD
- Please visit my "Emerging Diseases" message
board at: http://www.clickitnews.com/ubbthreads/postlist.php?
- Zhan le Devlesa tai sastimasa
- Go with God and in Good Health