What do we need to know..and why…about the biodefense labs at Fort Detrick?

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There’s an important Safety EXPO on April 30, and more you should know….

They’re right there in the middle of town: The national headquarters for biodefense research, and the largest campus of biodefense laboratories in the country. The economic engine of Frederick? Leading edge biomedical science? Biowarfare pathogen research labs? A potential health and safety risk to the community? All of the above?

One thing is certain: the public has had a lot of questions and concerns over the years, particularly as the labs have grown nearly tenfold in size and scale since 2003. Answers have not always been easy to come by.

Where we’ve been

That’s why the Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee (the CLCAC) was founded in 2010. To improve two-way communication between the public and the laboratories. To try to address community concerns and obtain information for the public. The CLCAC reports to elected officials and the public, not to the laboratories. It is an appointed, joint Committee of the City of Frederick and Frederick County. It has no authority beyond public support. We are residents and volunteers who come from backgrounds in biosafety, research and lab management, engineering and safety oversight, public health and community advocacy.

The CLCAC is committed to the community’s right to know about biocontainment laboratory matters that can impact public health and safety. We’re committed to improving transparency and accountability to the public.

People consistently tell me  “the place makes them nervous”. Well, the CLCAC neither engages in fear mongering, nor does it give assurances to the public that “everything is just fine, go about your business”. We believe that both of those positions is condescending and dismissive to the public. Our job is to represent community concerns, and to get fact-based information back to the public so people can decide for themselves what they think. 

We believe that a well-informed public is an essential part of the safety plan. We believe it makes a difference when everyone knows that the public is paying attention.

Laboratory safety is complicated and technical. That can be a barrier to the public, but it needn’t be. We’ve found that members of the public are pretty clear about figuring out what’s important, and cutting to the chase with questions. We’ve found that speaking up about concerns is important for accountability, and to ensure that elected officials are also engaged.

If we are all going to be neighbors with the labs, we need a good, ongoing process for civic discourse about them.

There have been a lot of meetings and forums and presentations over the years both sponsored by the labs and by the CLCAC. We’ve posted a wealth of information and FAQ’s on our webpage: http://www.cityoffrederick.com/index.aspx?NID=127

We’ve had public forums with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talking about how they do inspections and oversight, what they can and cannot tell us and why. We’ve heard from Frederick’s Public Health Officer and Emergency Management Officials about what happens next in case of an accident. Officials from the State have talked to the public about private unregulated labs. We’ve taken action to try to address some safety and transparency issues. THAT has been a long process.

We’ve done a lot of listening. To the public, to the laboratory leadership. So we know the labs believe in their safety programs, and that the public still has questions.

We’ve heard clearly that the public wants to know how well all that safety equipment, and training and safety procedures are actually working. And we’ve heard that people are tired of powerpoint presentations.

One of the things that has been missing is the opportunity for the public to engage in informal conversation with lab officials about their questions and concerns.  

We agree. People need a real conversation. They want to be able to talk about this, on their own terms, not in 3 minute formal statements in front of a microphone.

Where we’re going: Public Health and Safety EXPO April 30!

And so, the CLCAC is sponsoring a Biocontainment Laboratory Public Health and Safety EXPO and Open House. Hosted by Hood College Biology Department, in partnership with the three federal high containment laboratories located at Fort Detrick.

That’s the USAMRIID Army Lab, the Homeland Security Lab and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Lab. These are all Biosafety level 3 and 4 labs working with pathogens such as Ebola, Plague and Anthrax.

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The EXPO will be April 30, 4 to 8:30 pm in the basement of Coblenz Hall, at Hood.

Getting fact-based information out to the public. That’s what we are trying to do with this event.  It’s an opportunity for that conversation with lab safety experts as well as with public health and emergency management officials.  

We gave the labs long lists of questions provided to us by the public, and the labs have committed to answering questions and showing how they do safety.  

This is NOT a PR event for the labs.  It is not a forum with powerpoint presentations and formal speeches. It’s more like a science fair- with displays, equipment, safety suits, information, and biosafety experts, lab leadership available to talk.

It’s a time to ask any question whatsoever. We only ask that people be civil, respectful, and stay on topic: public health and safety.  

We believe this will benefit everyone.   

It is also an opportunity for you to talk with your elected officials (and candidates who also need to hear from the public) about whatever is on their mind about safety and the labs. We have invited all of our local, State and federal elected officials.

But there is another compelling reason why it is important for people to attend: The CLCAC’s ability to obtain safety performance information on behalf of the public is directly related to our level of public support.  

People need to make sure it is clear to both the labs and elected officials that this community cares about the labs being transparent with their safety information.  It is important that the laboratories hear directly from you about what is on your mind.

Please come. It’s an open house, so you can stay for as long or short an amount of time as you wish.

Just be aware that we will not be able to address Area B or cancer cluster issues.


More information

Containment Lab Community Advisory Committee on the City of Frederick website:
http://www.cityoffrederick.com/Index.aspx?NID=127

Please check out our flyer, print it, and promote it in your communities.
http://www.cityoffrederick.com/DocumentCenter/View/3868

Check out the Event Facebook page (and please Like the page and Share it on Facebook)
https://www.facebook.com/LabsafetyEXPO

And see more about the EXPO here:
http://www.envisionfrederickcounty.org/ai1ec_event/public-health-safety-high-containment-laboratories-fort-detrick/?instance_id=426

Meetings are televised on Local Government Channel 99 and are available to view as streaming video from the City of Frederick website. In addition, past meetings are available for online viewing at anytime from the Channel 99 web page.

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