8. September 2010 23:58
Why would Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company, so mistreat and silence one of their top molecular biologists that a federal jury in Connecticut recently awarded her $1.37 million in damages? The answer promises to tear open the curtain covering hazards confronting tens of thousands of scientists and assistants in corporate, government and university labs. Becky McClain’s lawsuit against Pfizer claimed that the company’s sloppiness exposed her to an engineered form of the lentivirus, a virus related to one that could lead to immune deficiencies. It documented the absence of any available risk assessments and exposed the cruel refusal to give afflicted employees their own exposure records on the grounds that they are company trade secrets. Pfizer denied connections between its lab practices and Ms. McClain’s reoccurring paralysis and other illnesses. Becky McClain is not alone. As a revolution in genetic and other biological sciences has greatly expanded the number of laboratories in the past twenty years, workers in the biological industries have suffered from health and safety regulations that have fallen well behind the times. David Michaels, the head of OSHA, has admitted that there are “many gaps” in his agency’s standards. “New biological materials, nanomaterials, there are many things where we don’t have adequate information” (NY Times interview).
The Council for Responsible Genetics is mobilizing an effort to ensure that worker health and safety are once again protected in the United States by identifying hazards, educating the public and policy makers and working towards the creation of enforceable and openly accessible standards and practices for biological laboratories. Our new report represents an important step in this process as it lays out the current regulatory framework for commercial and academic biotechnology laboratories in the United States, identifies specific gaps in these regulations and offers some initial recommendations for improvements.
The full report can be accessed on the CRG website.