Oversight of High-Containment Biological Laboratories: Issues for Congress [March 5, 2009]   [open pdf - 350KB]

"The federal government responded to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the subsequent anthrax attacks with increased focus on and funding for biodefense. A key consideration in this response was addressing shortages in diagnostic, clinical, and research laboratory capacity. Several departments and agencies have increased or are in the process of increasing their laboratory capacity. High-containment laboratories play a critical role in the biodefense effort, offering the hope of better responses to an attack and a better understanding of the threat posed by bioterrorism. However, they also could increase the risk of a biological attack by serving as a potential source of materials or training. Indeed, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism recommends tightening government oversight of high-containment laboratories. Policymakers have become increasingly interested in the oversight of these facilities following reports of accidents, regulatory noncompliance, and community resistance. The increase in high-containment laboratory capacity has raised new policy questions and emphasized existing ones. How much laboratory capacity is enough? What is the necessary federal investment? Should laboratories be consolidated or dispersed? What plans exist to coordinate multiple agency efforts to expand high-containment laboratory capacity? Does increasing laboratory capacity increase the risk of accidents and the opportunity for purposeful misuse? What is an acceptable balance between the benefits these laboratories provide and the risks they pose?"

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, R40418
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