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High-Containment Biosafety Laboratories: Preliminary Observations on the Oversight of the Proliferation of BSL-3 and BSL-4 Laboratories in the United States

GAO-08-108T Published: Oct 04, 2007. Publicly Released: Oct 04, 2007.
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In response to the global spread of emerging infectious diseases and the threat of bioterrorism, high-containment biosafety laboratories (BSL)--specifically biosafety level (BSL)-3 and BSL-4--have been proliferating in the United States. These labs--classified by the type of agents used and the risk posed to personnel, the environment, and the community--often contain the most dangerous infectious disease agents, such as Ebola, smallpox, and avian influenza. This testimony addresses (1) the extent to which there has been a proliferation of BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs, (2) federal agencies' responsibility for tracking this proliferation and determining the associated risks, and (3) the lessons that can be learned from recent incidents at three high-containment biosafety labs. To address these objectives, GAO asked 12 federal agencies involved with high-containment labs about their missions and whether they tracked the number of labs overall. GAO also reviewed documents from these agencies, such as pertinent legislation, regulation, and guidance. Finally, GAO interviewed academic experts in microbiological research.

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AccidentsBiocontainment laboratoriesBiological researchBioterrorismDisease controlEmerging infectious diseasesFacility securityFederal agenciesInfectious diseasesLaboratoriesPublic healthReporting requirementsRisk managementSafety regulationTerrorism