Just 13 years after finishing a state-of-the-art lab for the world’s most dangerous germs, the U.S.’s top public health agency wants another one for the cool price of $400 million.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the current lab in Atlanta is wearing down, and can’t upgrade the facility without a total shutdown that’d last years. The lab harbours and investigates deadly and exotic germs – think Ebola, small pox, and highly-potent forms of the flu. The CDC lab is just one of eight in the U.S. with the resources and security to work with these high-threat germs, says James Le Duc, director of one of them, from the University of Texas’s Galveston National Laboratory.
The CDC’s original lab opened in 2005, costing $214 million; the lab that handles the world’s deadliest germs began in 2009, replacing a 20-year-old lab the CDC operated.
Some experts are taken aback by the CDC’s request for a new lab so soon.
“Having a lab being replaced after about 12 years seems unusual,” explains Stephen Higgs, director of the Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State University.
One of the main reasons is components of the CDC lab are no longer made, and engineers say a new building would be necessary for the complex systems needed.
Government officials approached Congress about the plan to fund the CDC’s new lab with discretionary funds last week.
“The longer it takes, the more likely there will be a failure. And if there’s a failure, we lose an essential line of defense” against disease threats, said the CDC’s former director, Dr. Tom Frieden.
Numerous problems have been reported in the current lab over the years, including a 2009 decontamination shower failure, and a 2015 fire in the lower-level. But, the facility has performed well overall, and these incidents are not related to the needs of a new super lab.
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