A USA TODAY Network investigation reveals that hundreds of lab mistakes, safety violations and near-miss incidents have occurred in biological laboratories coast to coast in recent years, putting scientists, their colleagues and sometimes even the public at risk.
Oversight of biological research labs is fragmented, often secretive and largely self-policing, the investigation found. And even when research facilities commit the most egregious safety or security breaches — as more than 100 labs have — federal regulators keep their names secret. Of particular concern are mishaps at BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs, which work with the world’s most dangerous pathogens. Yet there’s no publicly available list of these labs and even the federal government doesn’t know where they all are.
The USA TODAY investigation includes a massive online interactive that reveals details about more than 200 of these high-containment labs, including more than 20,000 pages of their safety records obtained by reporters and posted in DocumentCloud.
Many labs fought access to records and the project goes into detail about actions each institution took in an attempt thwart transparency. In addition to FOI requests, the project uses an obscure transparency requirement that’s a condition of federal research funding to access lab safety committee records and incident reports.