This is a nightmare. But it's not a surprise.
A dangerous strain of the flu virus that caused a worldwide pandemic in 1957 was sent to thousands of laboratories in the United States and around the world, triggering a frantic effort to destroy the samples to prevent an outbreak, health officials revealed yesterday.With the government tossing out biodefense research grants like Louisville Sluggers on Bat Day, universities and private companies by the dozen have been building labs to handle the nastiest bacteria and viruses around. As a result, "hundreds of inexperienced researchers [are being drawn] into work with hazardous organisms," the Times observed a few months back.But the federal government is largely leaving oversight of these labs up to the colleges and companies themselves, the bio-watchers at the Sunshine Project note. Each institution is supposed to be policed by a home-grown "biosafety committee." But, as of last summer, at least, "some three dozen laboratories" receiving federal biodefense dollars hadn't even set their committees up.When these committees are active, they often work in secret. So no one from the outside the lab has a good idea what's going on inside. There's little, if any, independent safety advice. And that makes it easier for potentially-deadly mistakes -- like distributing an ultra-dangerous flu strain to thousands of sites scattered around the globe."As if recent tularemia incidents, SARS escapes, and the myriad of other accidents in recent years were not enough," writes the Sunshine Project's Edward Hammond. "When will researchers and regulators come to grips with the inevitability of human error and equipment failures and restrict research and require transparency (as a restraining measure) - by law - as is so obviously required?"THERE'S MORE: POGO has put together a creepy timeline of biosafety mishaps over the last three years.