Door Failure Shuts Down UTMB Biohazard Lab

A laboratory used for experiments with avian flu, hemorrhagic fever, and other highly infectious organisms has been temporarily shut down at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston after an internal door between the procedure room and the chemical shower failed twice.

The Robert E. Shope Laboratory is rated by the National Institutes of Health as a Biosafety Level 4 facility, a designation for a work area with dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high individual risk of life-threatening disease. Level 4 facilities are either separate buildings or in controlled areas within a building and completely isolated from all other areas of the building. Walls, floors, and ceilings of the facility are constructed to form a sealed internal shell that facilitates fumigation and is animal and insect proof. A Biosafety Level 4 lab has special engineering and design features to prevent microorganisms from being disseminated into the environment. Personnel enter and leave the facility only through the clothing change and shower rooms, and shower each time they leave the facility. Personal clothing is removed in the outer clothing change room and kept there.

In this case, no people were in the two rooms separated by the malfunctioning door when it opened last week, a UTMB spokesperson said. Five to seven experiments were underway when the door opened, but no infectious organisms escaped and no one was exposed, the spokesperson said. An alarm sounded, and an engineer inspected the door while wearing a biohazard suit. The lab will not be reopened to new experiments until the cause of the problem is determined and resolved, the spokesperson said. The lab was to be fumigated Saturday.

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