The other day it came to my attention that a new biohazards facility is being build in California, now that got me to thinking about what is stored in them and the possible dangers. I found out that this particular facility requires multiply backup generators and batteries. Now I don’t know what level this facility is, I suspect a level three.
Now in case of a major earthquake or EMP incident that knocks out the power supply or the building is damaged, what happens to the dangerous materials stored inside?
Biohazard for our purpose refers to biological substances that threaten the health of humans or animals. This can include medical waste or samples of a microorganism, virus or toxin
The term biohazard and its warning symbol should be highly visible, warning you to avoid these facilities. You will often notice these signs in hospitals, avoid contact with anything marked with this symbol.
Levels of Biohazards
Biohazard Level 1: This includes bacteria and viruses including Bacillus subtilis, canine hepatitis, Escherichia coli, chicken pox, as well as some cell cultures and non-infectious bacteria. At level one, only minimum precautions against biohazards are taken, most likely involving gloves and some sort of facial protection.
Biohazard Level 2: This level consists of bacteria and viruses that cause only mild disease to humans, or are difficult to contract through airborne transmission in a lab setting. This includes hepatitis A, B, and C, influenza A, Lyme disease, salmonella, mumps, measles, scrapie, and dengue fever. This location is normally used for routine diagnostic work with clinical specimens and some research. These often can be found in hospitals.
Biohazard Level 3: Bacteria and viruses stored in this level can cause severe to fatal disease in humans, but for which vaccines or other treatments exist. This would include diseases such as anthrax, West Nile virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, SARS virus, tuberculosis, typhus, Rift Valley fever, HIV, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, yellow fever, and malaria. Among parasites Plasmodium falciparum, which causes Malaria, and Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes trypanosomiasis, also come under this level. According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published on October 4, 2007, a total of 1356 level 3 facilities were identified throughout the United States, and this is considered a conservative estimate.
Biohazard Level 4: These are the most dangerous containing viruses and bacteria that cause severe to fatal disease in humans, and for which vaccines or other treatments are not available. This class includes such diseases as Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, hantaviruses, Lassa fever virus, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and other hemorrhagic diseases. Smallpox is included despite the existence of a vaccine.
Level 4 facilities have a high level of protection and include the use of a positive pressure personnel suit, with a segregated air supply. The entrance and exit of a Level 4 biohazard facility will include multiple showers, a vacuum room, an ultraviolet light room, autonomous detection system, and other safety precautions designed to destroy all traces of the biohazard. Multiple airlocks are employed and are electronically secured to prevent both doors opening at the same time. All air and water service going to and coming from a biohazard Level 4 lab will undergo similar decontamination procedures to eliminate the possibility of an accidental release. There are currently 15 of these labs in the United States and at least one in Winnipeg, Canada. The table below shows the location of the ones in the United States.
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention||United States, Georgia,Atlanta||4||Currently operates in two buildings. One of two facilities in the world that officially hold smallpox.|
|Georgia State University||United States, Georgia,Atlanta||4||Is an older design “glovebox” facility.|
|National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), Kansas State University||United States, Kansas,Manhattan||2–4||Under construction. Facility to be operated by the Department of Homeland Security, and replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (which is not a BSL-4 facility). Planned to be operational by 2015, but likely delayed.|
|National Institutes of Health (NIH)||United States, Maryland,Bethesda||4||Located on the NIH Campus, it currently only operates with BSL-3 agents.|
|Integrated Research Facility||United States, Maryland,Fort Detrick||4||Under construction. This facility will be operated by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), it is planned to begin operating at 2009 at the earliest.|
|National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC)||United States, Maryland,Fort Detrick||4||Under construction, it will be operated for the Department of Homeland Security.|
|US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID)||United States, Maryland,Fort Detrick||4||Old building|
|US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID)||United States, Maryland,Fort Detrick||4||New building, currently under design construction|
|National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory (NEIDL), Boston University||United States,Massachusetts, Boston||4||Under construction by Boston University, building and staff training complete, waiting for regulatory approval.|
|NIAID Rocky Mountain Laboratories||United States, Montana,Hamilton||4||National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases|
|Kent State University, Kent Campus||United States, Ohio,Kent||3–4||Operates as a clean lab at level 3 for training purposes. Scheduled for conversion to a hot level 4 lab in response to a bioterrorism event in the USA.|
|Galveston National Laboratory, National Biocontainment Facility||United States, Texas,Galveston||4||Opened in 2008, facility is operated by the University of Texas Medical Branch.|
|Shope Laboratory||United States, Texas,Galveston||4||Operated by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB).|
|Texas Biomedical Research Institute||United States, Texas,San Antonio||3+4||The only privately owned BSL-4 lab in the US.|
|Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services||United States, Virginia,Richmond||4||This facility is part of the Department of General Services of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is so called “surge” BSL-4 capacity.|
Not being an expert in this biohazards, I am concerned about the possible spread of disease from these facilities in cause of a major long-term power disruption or a severe earthquake. You may want to find out what types of facilities are located in your area. For instance, I notice there is one located in Hamilton Montana, an area I would not have expected to find one. If you have any expertise on this subject please feel free to comment.