Despite strict security measures that are supposed to be in place when researchers work with anthrax and other potential bioterror agents, a high-containment laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has had repeated incidents of security doors left unlocked.
Internal CDC emails obtained by USA TODAY describe unlocked door incidents in 2010 and 2009 in a Biosafety Level 3 area that Rutgers University biosafety expert Richard Ebright says appear to be serious security violations. They include an April 2010 incident where a CDC safety manager reports that "an individual with no access and no escort" was found in the building's high-containment lab block of BSL-3 labs and animal holding areas.
The CDC says there was never any risk of infectious agents falling into the wrong hands because of of multiple layers of security in agency's $214 million Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory, also called CDC Building 18.
The incidents of unsecured doors are the latest problems to become public about Building 18. Earlier this week I reported that the House Energy and Commerce Committee opened a bipartisan investigation following my report earlier this month about air flow problems in the building and that CDC was now considering having an outside agency review its labs' safety. While I was a reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I revealed other problems at Building 18. They included a containment door on a bioterror lab that the agency had sealed with duct tape to address an air flow problem and a failure of backup generators to keep power on in the building.
The "documents you have obtained over the past several years make it clear that there has been a pattern of corner-cutting and negligence at CDC biocontainment facilities —starting with the failure to include provisions for emergency backup power, and encompassing inadequate door seals, improper airflow, jury-rigged repairs, and unsecured access points," Ebright said.
Read my latest USA TODAY story: Security lapses found at CDC bioterror lab in Atlanta
And here's ABC News' follow-up story this morning to my report on CDC security: Emails reveal security lapses at CDC bio-terror laboratory