Pirbright rapped for foot-and-mouth incidents

The laboratory at the centre of the 2007 foot-and-mouth outbreak has been investigated after “underlying management failings” led to an accident involving material infected with the virus.

The accident at the Institute for Animal Health’s Pirbright laboratory in Surrey, occurred in February this year when infected animal waste escaped from an incinerator.

A second incident is also under investigation. This took place in January when a flask containing F&M virus cracked during a defrosting process.

Both incidents were contained within the Pirbright facility.

The Health and Safety Executive has investigated both cases and issued orders for the management team to carry out improvements at the site.

An HSE spokeswoman told Farmers Weekly: “HSE can confirm that two improvement notices have been issued.

“HSE took action to make sure that IAH addressed underlying failings in management arrangements for maintenance of the incinerator.

“The incident involved material infected with virus but did not result in the release of infectious material off site.”

The second improvement order, regarding the cracked flask, is subject to appeal and no comment can be made at this time.

A spokesman for the IAH and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council which funds operations at the site said: “The nature of the world leading research carried out at IAH means that it is necessary for work to be conducted on dangerous viral pathogens.

“Since it is impossible to guarantee that pathogens will not occasionally escape from primary containment, for instance due to accidental breakages or spills in the laboratory, the facilities at IAH are operated within multiple layers of containment.

“This has ensured that breach of primary containment does not result in the escape of pathogens to the environment,” he said.

“The institute has invested £30m since 2007 in facility improvements and new infrastructure developments with a further £100m investment under way due to complete in 2014.”

IAH has reviewed its procedures in light of this experience to prevent any reoccurrence. The HSE has now confirmed that it is satisfied with these actions and the improvement notice that was issued has been closed.

Farm minister Jim Paice has admitted to seething with anger when he was told of the problems at Pirbright.

“I knew about this soon after it occurred. When I heard about it I was seething, but all my experts have advised me that there was never a threat and all the containment systems in place worked. 

“It was not a threat but it should never have happened, and yet again we have got to learn from it and put in more controls to prevent it happening again.  I can assure that the systems worked.”