Foot-And-Mouth Inquiry Points To Leaking Pipe At Research Laboratory

PIRBRIGHT - A leaking pipe was the likely source of this summer’s outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, a report is expected to conclude tomorrow.
calendar icon 6 September 2007
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The drainage pipe is thought to have been damaged by a tree root, and raises serious questions about the quality of biosecurity and maintenance of infrastructure at the laboratory, shared by a private firm and a government-funded research organisation, in Pirbright, Surrey.

Once traces of the foot-and-mouth virus escaped from the supposedly secure laboratory unit it is believed to have been spread on the vehicle wheels or feet of people working there, possibly contractors upgrading the facilities.

Ministers at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has overall responsibility for the site, are braced for bruising criticism when two reports into the outbreak are made public tomorrow morning.

Farmers have been infuriated that an outbreak of the disease should have been the result of a leak from a government-funded research site and the reports are likely to fuel their anger.

Peter Ainsworth, the Shadow Environment Secretary, said: “While there is much speculation about exactly how this outbreak occurred one fact remains the same – that it is both shocking and unacceptable that this virus could have escaped from a government-licensed laboratory at all. Ever since the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth, farmers have been forced to implement an increasing number of stringent biosecurity measures, but it seems that the Government is unable to ensure the safety of its own premises.”

The laboratory site is shared between Merial, a private firm licensed by Defra to produce foot-and-mouth vaccine, and the Institute for Animal Health (IAH), a government-funded research organisation. The suspect pipe is thought to run from the Merial laboratories to IAH, where any viral material contained within waste fluid should have been destroyed safely.

Source: TimesOnline
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