U. Arizona labs well regulated, secure, officials say

By By U Wire

By U Wire

TUCSON, Ariz.?Anthrax scares across the nation have raised fears about laboratory safety closer to home. However, University of Arizona officials say the biological agents in university laboratories are monitored and regulated.

“We certainly have concern for the security [of laboratories],” said Herb Wagner, associate director of risk management and safety. “The security of the lab itself is the responsibility of the principal investigator, and our office provides them with information.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D Calif., has proposed legislation calling for tighter control over laboratories and biological agents in response to the discovery of anthrax spores found at mail-processing facilities and other locations across the country.

But at the University of Arizona, only one lab deals with a substance that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says poses a very high risk. The substance is the fungus that causes Valley Fever?classified as a “select agent.” This means that it poses a high risk to people who come into contact with it and that scientists investigating it must take special precautions.

Still, the CDC reports that more than half of those who inhale the spores from the fungus?which occurs naturally in the soil around Tucson?are not infected with the virus.

The proposed legislation calls for more stringent regulation and certification of laboratories and bans on the individual possession of some potentially threatening biological agents.

Labs handling dangerous pathogens would be required to demonstrate that lab staff was properly trained and would handle and dispose of the substances in a safe manner.

Additionally, any laboratory worker handling the substances would be required to pass a background check, and any individuals or laboratories that did not comply with these regulations would be subject to fine, imprisonment or both, according to Feinstein’s release.

But one student said he is not worried about security in campus labs.

“I’m not concerned about lab safety on campus at all,” said Steven Filoso, an atmospheric sciences sophomore. “It seems to me that security on campus is adequate as it is, and I don’t see UA being on the top list of universities to have anything happen.”