Head of troubled CDC anthrax lab resigns

A series of embarrassing and serious safety incidents at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resulted in the resignation of a top laboratory official in Atlanta.

Michael Farrell, who led the CDC's Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Technology Laboratory since 2009, resigned Tuesday, said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.

Farrell was reassigned to other duties last month in the wake of his team's mishandling of live anthrax and potential exposure of dozens of agency employees to a particularly deadly strain of the bacteria.

CDC Director Tom Frieden last week testified before a congressional oversight committee that his agency is seeking to address an insufficient culture of safety that resulted in the anthrax incident and another serious incident involving cross-contamination of a benign strain of bird flu with a dangerous and deadly strain. Frieden said the agency will also take disciplinary action, where appropriate, with staff involved in the incidents.

Skinner said Wednesday there have been no additional personnel moves to date. He declined to provide further details about Farrell's resignation. Farrell was unavailable for comment.

The lab overseen by Farrell used an unapproved method to deactivate anthrax spores before sending them to other labs at CDC where scientists were not equipped with protective gear to work with live anthrax. The agency later discovered that some of the bacteria had not been killed by the deactivation method.

CDC has said the risks of infection are small, and so far no employees have shown any signs of infection. Still, the agency's internal review found serious safety lapses.

The CDC incidents with bird flu and anthrax, along with the recent discovery of forgotten vials of deadly smallpox virus at another lab on the National Institutes of Health campus, raised concerns among members of Congress about the safety and security of more than 1,400 U.S. labs conducting research on bacteria, viruses and toxins that have the potential to be used as bioweapons.


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