Tuesday, February 13, 2007

University of Washington on probation for animal lab violations

The University of Washington has been put on probation for widespread violations in its animal laboratory facilities, which include its Washington Primate Research Center and several other sites for other animal research.

A routine inspection by the Council on Accreditation of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care produced a list of violations, ranging from peeling paint and dirty cages to more serious infractions, including three rooms where temperatures reached 104 degrees in July 2005, killing more than 500 laboratory mice.

Unsanitary conditions jeopardized the health of lab workers as well as lab animals, according to the report.

The university houses about 100,000 mice and rats, 700 primates and various other animals including dogs, cats and fish, all used for research.

The council characterized the violations as "serious but correctable." It said it was "concerned that the types of deficiencies observed during the recent site visit are an indication that there is a lack of sufficient institutional support for the program."

The private, non-profit organization conducts voluntary accreditation and assessment programs every three years. The accreditation is seen as a seal of approval for facilities.

Not complying with the mandatory corrections means a loss of accreditation and ultimately a loss of federal research money.

"We've had our ups and downs, but we've never been where we are now," said John Coulter, executive director of health sciences administration at the UW.

"We believe we have some serious issues to fix."

Among other findings in the report:

# Only a taped line on a hallway floor separated HIV-infected primates and dirty primate cages from workers carrying their lunches to a break room, which "created the potential for humans to be exposed to the health risks associated with non-human primates."

# There was no pre-employment medical evaluation or ongoing medical evaluations of lab workers who were routinely exposed to allergens.

# On one floor of the Health Sciences Building, "the odor and level of dust in many of the rooms was intense."

# The majority of rooms on that floor were "significantly overcrowded, creating the potential for worker injury and inconsistencies in environmental conditions for the animals."

Story here.

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