The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has requested $350 million from Congress to replace one of its labs for dangerous diseases, including Ebola and smallpox. The current facility has only been in use since 2009.
Of the eight labs in the United States capable of working with highly dangerous germs, five are run by the federal government, James Le Duc, director of the University of Texas’s Galveston National Laboratory told the Associated Press. The architecture firm that designed the current lab reportedly suggested it would last 50 years, but the CDC request for replacement funds comes after only a dozen years of operation.
CDC officials have been aware of issues with the lab since the Obama administration, though this budget represents the first time the agency has made an official request to replace it. A combination of the ongoing public health focus on infectious outbreaks such as Ebola and Zika, alongside concerns about funding to continue studying those diseases in foreign countries creates additional urgency as the physical equipment used to study such pathogens in Atlanta continues to degrade.
The chief of CDC’s viral special pathogens branch, Stuart Nichol, Ph.D., told the Washington Post that, as a matter of public safety, the four-year project to construct the new labs needs to start soon.
“What the engineers are telling us is that all of the equipment that is running this thing, the brain to it, all of these things are aging,” he said. Any breakdowns would reduce the margin of safety for operating the lab, he added.
Research on highly virulent strains of influenza also take place at the labs, which have specialized equipment used recently to study the likelihood that an outbreak of bird flu in China in 2013 could become a pandemic, according to the Post.
Former CDC director Tom Frieden, M.D., told the AP that the need to replace the building did not relate to previously disclosed incidents at the facility, including a failure of the decontamination shower system in 2009 and a 2015 fire.