GAO questions anthrax detection methods

first_img Of the 286 postal facilities tested, 23 tested positive. For two of the 23—in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Wallingford, Conn.—the first tests were negative but later tests turned positive. The Wallingford facility didn’t test positive until the fourth round of testing. In another building, in West Trenton, N.J., no anthrax was found in three rounds of tests, even though a worker had contracted cutaneous anthrax. The GAO puts the bottom line thus: “Because the agencies did not use an empirical process to validate their testing methods, the agencies had limited information available for reliably choosing one method over another and no information on the detection limit to use when evaluating negative results.” The agencies used any of four different preliminary tests and three confirmatory tests to identify anthrax in extracted samples. The number of different tests used, in combination with differences at other stages of the sampling process, increases the level of uncertainty about the results, the GAO contends. Rhodes’s prepared testimony summarizing the GAO reporthttp://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05493t.pdf For its evaluation, the GAO broke the agencies’ sampling activities down into five steps: sampling strategy (where and how many samples were gathered), sample collection methods, sample transportation, sample extraction in the lab, and sample analysis. The agencies mostly used processing solutions to extract samples from dry swabs and get them onto plates for culturing, though in some cases they brought dry swabs into direct contact with plates. Either way, the GAO says, “definitive scientific information regarding extraction efficiency is lacking,” casting additional doubt on the reliability of negative results. The GAO’s conclusion is based on an examination of the approaches used by three agencies—the US Postal Service (USPS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—to hunt for anthrax in 286 postal facilities after the anthrax mailings in 2001. The report also finds fault with the methods used to gather samples. In most cases the agencies used dry swabs on surfaces, though they also used some moistened swabs, wet wipes, HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air filter) vacuuming, and air samples. None of the collection methods were tested in advance, so the agencies “had no information available for reliably choosing one method over another and no information on the limits of detection to use when evaluating negative results,” the report states. In shipping their samples, the agencies followed regulations designed mainly to prevent leaks and protect workers. The GAO complains that the regulations did not address the matter of protecting the samples from extreme temperatures or other factors that could compromise their biological integrity and lead to false-negative test results. “The sampling strategy used by the agencies could not provide any statistical confidence with regard to the basic question: Is this building contaminated?” the report says. “The lack of validation of agencies’ activities, coupled with limitations associated with their targeted sampling strategy, means that negative results may not be reliable,” the report says. It recommends that the secretary of homeland security take on the task of ensuring that pathogen detection methods are validated and coordinating environmental testing for pathogens by different agencies. The agencies mainly used a targeted sampling strategy, collecting samples mostly from areas they judged likeliest to be contaminated. The GAO takes issue with this approach, saying the agencies should have done probability sampling to achieve “wide-area coverage” and provide statistical confidence in negative results. See also: “None of the agencies’ activities to detect anthrax contamination in the postal facilities were validated,” the GAO said in prepared congressional testimony based on the report. Apr 18, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says federal agencies may not be able to reliably rule out the presence of anthrax contamination in a building because their sampling and detection methods have not been adequately tested. The agencies have made some changes in their procedures on the basis of lessons learned from the 2001 attacks and have funded some new research. But these efforts, though important, “do not address the issue of validating all activities related to sampling,” in the GAO’s view. The GAO recommends that the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lead an effort to develop a definition of validation and to ensure that the whole set of sampling activities is validated. That should include studies to “develop probability-based sampling strategies that take into account the complexities of indoor environments.” Also, the DHS chief should coordinate the activities of agencies with expertise in environmental testing. However, DHS officials took exception to the role the GAO recommends for their department. DHS maintained that the EPA has “the primary responsibility of establishing the strategies, guidelines and plans for the recovery from a biological attack, while HHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] has the lead role for any related public health response and guidelines,” the final report states. DHS promised to “coordinate with EPA to ensure appropriate investments are made to explore improved sampling.” When they read a draft of the report, the CDC, USPS, and DHS all agreed that the methods for detecting anthrax were not validated and that a systematic validation effort is needed, the report states. The GAO—Congress’s investigative agency—prepared its report for the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations. GAO staff member Keith A. Rhodes gave a 19-page summary of the 119-page report in testimony prepared for delivery to the committee on Apr 5. Full report “Anthrax Detection: Agencies Need to Validate Sampling Activities in Order to Increase Confidence in Negative Results”http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05251.pdflast_img read more

Eighth USC president passes away

first_imgJohn “Jack” Randolph Hubbard, eighth president of USC and U.S. Ambassador to India, died Sunday and was immediately remembered by colleagues and friends alike.President C. L. Max Nikias announced Hubbard’s death at Salute to Troy on Sunday afternoon.Hubbard served as president between 1970 and 1980.Nikias said Hubbard was a true leader and a distinguished historian.“He was a man of tremendous breadth and a champion of our faculty and students. We look forward to a celebration of his life and the legacy that has forever changed USC,” Nikias said in an email.Hubbard came to USC in 1969 and served as vice president and provost for one year. In 1970 he was unanimously voted to succeed Norman H. Topping as university president.During Hubbard’s tenure, the push to transform USC into an elite academic institution truly began.Hubbard was known to have said, “It seemed, to me, that this would be a good time, strategically, to become aggressive as a university.”This initiative propelled the grade point average for admitted freshmen to 3.4 on a 4.0 scale, began the construction of many major buildings and initiated programs with the surrounding community, promoting the inclusion of minority groups into the university.Hubbard prided himself on having international connections. He formed relationships with schools in Asia and the Middle East to promote exchange programs between schools and set up many alumni clubs to connect the USC student body around the globe.With the goal of transforming USC, he also launched the “Toward Century II” campaign, which raised more than $306 million in gifts and pledges and helped establish USC as one of the top 20 research universities in the United States.Hubbard stepped down as president in 1980 and returned to teaching classes in history.Steven Ross, former chair of the history department during Hubbard’s teaching years, said Hubbard was a unique character.“Hubbard was an inspiring person as a teacher and as a human being,” Ross said. “He was one of the most dedicated teachers I have met.”Prior to his appointment to USC, Hubbard served as chief education adviser for the International Development Agency missions in New Delhi from 1965 to 1969.In 1988, President Ronald Reagan appointed Hubbard the U.S. ambassador to India.Hubbard joined the Navy during World War II and served as a naval aviation pilot. He was awarded four Air Medals and the rank of lieutenant commander for his outstanding service.“Flying just came easy to me,” Hubbard said in a 1988 video interview.In 2003, as a commemoration to Hubbard’s services to his country as well as the university, USC renamed the student services building John R. Hubbard Hall.Aside from his passion for education, Hubbard had a deep-rooted love for USC athletics.He used to send in football plays to then-coach John Robinson.“The team might be able to fare reasonably well even without Hubbard to send in plays,” Robinson said.Hubbard earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in history from the University of Texas, was a professor of European history at Yale University and dean and associate professor of British and European history at Tulane University from 1953 to 1958.Nikias said a memorial service for Hubbard will be held in October.last_img read more