WASHINGTON - October 4 - Dr. Alan Pearson, Director of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Control Program at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, testified today before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that the recent expansion of bioweapons laboratories "creates risks to laboratory personnel, public health and national security."
Pearson formerly worked for the Department of Homeland Security. He is editor of the forthcoming book Incapacitating Biochemical Weapons: Promise or Peril? (November 2007). Pearson holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The hearing, which began at 10 AM EST, is titled "Germs, Viruses, and Secrets: The Silent Proliferation of Bio-Laboratories in the United States."
Over the last six years, the federal government has dramatically increased U.S. research and development activity and infrastructure focused on biological and weapons agents. Annual Research and Development funding is up six-fold since fiscal year 2001, with over $3.3 billion proposed for next year.
In his testimony, Pearson notes: "This expansion recognizes our need for a national biodefense program. But it is not an unalloyed good - it also creates risks to laboratory personnel, public health and national security, especially since it is taking place against a backdrop of inadequate regulation and transparency."
Pearson's full oral and written testimony is available online.
Laboratory workers and the surrounding communities can be put at risk. "When more dangerous research is performed by more people in more locations, there are simply more opportunities for significant biosafety or biosecurity breaches to occur. The most obvious risk is that of a laboratory accident which sickens or kills a laboratory worker or people in the surrounding community," Pearson points out.
A terrorist attack against a bioweapons laboratory remains an acute risk. Pearson writes that "The very labs designed to protect against bioweapons may become a source for them. The easiest way for a sub-state enemy such as Al Qaeda to obtain a bioweapons capability is for it to penetrate an existing research project that uses bioweapons agents."