Pirbright has come under close scrutiny again following two health and safety breaches, including an incident where a flask containing foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus was cracked.

Pirbright has come under close scrutiny again following two health and safety breaches, including an incident where a flask containing foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus was cracked.

Institute for Animal Health, Bakers Gate. Image courtesy Ron Strutt.The second safety breach, which has been investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), involved a leak of waste liquid in an incinerator room.

The incidents come just 4 years after the 2007 FMD outbreak in Surrey, which was linked to a damaged pipe at the Institute for Animal Health‘s Pirbright site by HSE investigators.

In response to the breaches, the IAH and BBSRC issued a joint statement that said: “The nature of the world leading research carried out at IAH means that it is necessary for work to be conducted on dangerous viral pathogens.

“Since it is impossible to guarantee that pathogens will not occasionally escape from primary containment, for instance due to accidental breakages or spills in the laboratory, the facilities at IAH are operated within multiple layers of containment. This ensures that breach of primary containment does not result in the escape of pathogens to the environment.”

The statement claims both incidents were “reported immediately to relevant authorities”, following which the HSE issued two improvement notices to IAH – one of which has already been complied with, leading to a review of procedures to prevent any reoccurrence. The second incident (the cracking of a flask containing FMD virus discovered during defrosting within a safety cabinet within a bio-secure laboratory) is currently the subject of an appeal.

NFU president Peter KendallThese safety breaches at Pirbright have prompted questions from the NFU about the fairness of the Government’s cost and responsibility sharing policy, by suggesting that farmers are being penalised for mistakes made by scientists

NFU president Peter Kendall said: “This is unwelcome news particularly for livestock farmers who remember the devastating impact of the last outbreak of FMD in this country… Another release of FMD virus cannot be allowed to happen.

He added: “This issue raises further questions about the cost and responsibility agenda, not least the responsibility of ensuring that the livestock industry is not asked to bear the brunt of disease outbreaks which are not of its making.”

 

  • For the full article by Joel Dudley, see this week’s Veterinary Times (Vol.41, No.23)
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