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

Netherlands roundup: Political youth branches push for reform proposals

first_imgDutch political youth organisations have called for the government to break the deadlock on pensions reform and come up with proposals itself.During a networking meeting organised by PwC and the Dutch Association of Insurers (VvV), the youth branches of the Netherlands’ four coalition partners expressed concern that the stalemate over a new pensions contract would continue, after the government’s deadline for an agreement passed without result.The groups said they had found common ground on the introduction of mandatory pensions saving for all workers, including the self-employed (known as zzp’ers). This contradicted the position of the liberal VVD party and liberal democratic D66 party.“General mandatory pensions saving will lead to equal competitive relations between all workers,” argued Daan Looij of the VVD’s youth branch JOVD. The youth organisations said they favoured individual pensions accrual combined with “continued solidarity”.They also supported the government’s decision to abolish the average pension contribution model “as this provided for a unilateral income transfer from younger to older workers”.The organisations explained that they favoured progressive contributions – with younger workers paying in less than their older colleagues – rather than contributions reducing as workers got older.In their joint declaration, the youth organisations also highlighted the need for clarity about who was entitled to what. They cited demographic changes in the Netherlands and said that the pensions system had become disconnected from the labour market.They also argued that “the concept of opaque anonymous pension pots must disappear”.The youth organisations also demanded “much freedom of choice”, ranging from the investment profile to the pensions provider, and from premium holidays to the ability to take a lump sum.Women’s organisation demands legislation for board diversityThe Dutch government must introduce legislation to force pension funds to appoint at least 30% of women on their board if they keep on failing to adhere to a voluntary code for pension funds, a lobbying organisation has argued.In an interview with IPE’s Dutch sister publication PensioenPro, Marjon Brandenbarg and Larissa Gabriëlse, chair and vice chair of Women in Institutional Pensions (Viip), argued that the legislator must come up with a legal quota of female trustees, if naming and shaming also failed.They concluded that the ‘softly, softly’ approach hadn’t worked and further measures were necessary.“The pensions sector has been trying to improve diversity for years,” said Brandenbarg. “At the moment, no more than 15% of trustees are female, while many pension funds don’t even have a single woman on their board.”In her opinion, the code’s recommendation of at least one woman on a board was too little “as half of humankind comprises women”.The Dutch government was already considering a 30% quota for female trustees at large companies, Brandenbarg said. “If this were to materialise, the pensions sector can’t stay behind,” she added.Recently, D66 – one of the partners in the Netherlands’ coalition government – said it would initiate legislation for diversity rules for pension fund boards next year, if schemes failed to implement agreed changes voluntarily. Other parties are said to support the move. Trade unions and AkzoNobel on collision course over extra contributionDutch trade unions are heading for a confrontation with chemicals giant AkzoNobel after the firm declined a demand for a one-off €400m additional contribution to its pension fund.According to Dutch financial daily FD, the company has told unions that such a contribution to its defined contribution scheme was not allowed under international accounting rules.FD reported that the unions had declined the company’s offer of a salary increase and one-off payments as part of a new collective labour agreement.“This is to become war,” the newspaper quoted Erik de Vries, the FNV union’s trustee for the process industry, as saying.The unions had based their demand for the additional contribution on the sale of AkzoNobel’s specialty chemicals arm to US private equity firm Carlyle, saying that they wanted the assets to be used to improve the pension fund’s financial position.However, AkzoNobel had indicated it would channel most of the €7.5bn proceeds to its shareholders.The company’s €5.3bn pension fund has a coverage ratio of 108.9%. It has an ageing membership and has only been able to grant limited inflation compensation.The indexation in arrears for active participants is 7%, while its pensioners and deferred members have lost out on 14% of purchasing power.In addition to the unions, the scheme’s board and its pensioners association have asked for the capital injection, albeit as a subordinated loan, to be paid off within 10 years.last_img read more

SpeakSC Forum discusses annual fountain run options

first_imgUndergraduate Student Government hosted a SpeakSC Forum on Wednesday night that centered on the annual fountain run tradition that many undergraduate seniors partake in.USG President Andrew Menard, moderated the forum. Administrators in attendance included Dr. Ainsley Carry, vice provost for Student Affairs; Dr. Monique Allard, assistant provost for Student Affairs; and Lieutenant Hecklemann of the Dept. of Public Safety.For the last decade, seniors have attempted to run into all of the fountains located on the University Park campus. The annual fountain run, which occurs on the last Thursday before graduation, has sparked great concern among school officials due to the damage caused by last year’s event.Last year, three students were transported to a local hospital due to injuries or intoxication. The 2014 fountain run cost the university $34,842 in damages. Though DPS wrapped parts of the fountains in specialized fencing to prevent damage and student injury, nearly all of the fences were torn down in under eight minutes.Youth Triumphant, a fountain located at the center of Alumni Park and features a solid bronze statue atop four “modest maidens,” incurred the most financial and physical damage.Menard commented on the importance of smoothly facilitating this year’s fountain run.“Administrators reached out to USG and said, ‘Look, these are the damages we’ve incurred, this is the amount of lacerations there have been, this is the amount of students that were transported to the hospital, and we need to have a conversation about liability and safety,’” Menard said. “USG wanted students to have a place in this discussion so we decided to put together an event where we can get administrators and students in the same room talking about solutions.”Students and administrators reached a consensus agreeing that the fountain run must change in order to ensure student safety. Others also expressed their desire to effectively communicate about the event in order to preserve the fountain tradition.Carry asked students to work with administrators to help achieve a smoother, safer event.“We need your help for coming up with a smarter way to make this a safe event,” Carry said. “The fountain run was born out of the students. You have a chance to stake a claim in what is acceptable at your institution.”Students in attendance also contributed their ideas to the administration. One senior suggested selling tickets to contribute to the possible damages incurred during the event and to prevent outsiders from participating. Another student suggested checking student identification for this purpose. Many students supported the idea of an alternative event, however, such as food trucks or a concert, running concurrently with the fountain run to direct traffic away from the fountains.Lieutenant Hecklemenn asserted that the fountains be excluded from any kind of alternative event. Other administrators agreed with this sentiment.“An alternative event is an excellent idea, but it would have to exclude the fountains,” Hecklemenn said. “The fountains are simply not designed for this kind of event. That’s the challenge.”Suggestions to end the fountain run for the 2015 school year was met by hesitation from students. Many felt the cancellation of the highly anticipated event would not stop seniors from continuing to partake in the fountain run.Rini Sampath, vice president of USG, said cancelling the fountain run might not be effective.“Cancellation of the fountain run might create an issue where students are organizing it for a day where DPS isn’t aware,” Sampath said. “So if we were going to organize something else I think it would need to coexist with the fountain run.”last_img read more