The director of bioterror research lab at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resigned following accidents that potentially exposed lab employees to live anthrax in June, the agency says.
Michael Farrell, in charge of the Bioterror Rapid Response and Advanced Technology Laboratory in Atlanta, was reassigned following disclosures of security and safety breaches at the lab.
Farrel turned in his resignation Tuesday, a CDC spokesman said.
The spokesman, Tom Skinner, declined to answer queries about whether blame for the accidents has been placed on Farrell or whether he was asked to step down.
"I can confirm that he was the team lead for the BRRAT lab since 2009 and that he's resigned from that position," Skinner said.
In the June accident, dozens of CDC worker were potentially exposed to the anthrax when the high-security bioterror lab failed to ensure anthrax specimens had been completely killed before the samples were sent to a lower-level lab where workers were not equipped with the protective measures needed to safeguard them from the bacteria.
"Workers, believing the samples were inactivated, were not wearing adequate personal protective equipment while handling the material," the agency said in a statement on the accident.
In response to the anthrax accident and other revealed safety lapses, the CDC closed down two research labs and stopped shipping particularly dangerous bacteria to other labs.
"Environmental sampling was done, lab and hallway areas were decontaminated and laboratories will be re-opened when safe to operate."
While Skinner would not comment on whether any more personnel changes at the agency were being considered, CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden has announced the agency is contemplating disciplinary action for any members of staff discovered to be involved in violation of safety protocols or who failed to report safety or security breaches.
A senior CDC scientist has been selected for a new position overseeing safety of the agency's labs and a new advisory board of independent experts could be selected in the coming days, Frieden said.
A number of recent safety failures at the agency suggest the CDC should consider better training of workers to identify and take action to guard against breaches, experts suggest.
Assigning blame to an individual will not address they problems seen at the labs in the last decade, says Sean Kaufman, a former CDC official who is now a biosecurity consultant.
"For (Farrell) to resign as a result of this is an indicator that they're focusing on who instead of what," Kaufman says. "It was a culture that led to this issue. It was not an individual."