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Documents reveal leaks and spills at (Canadian) national virus lab

It sits smack in the centre of downtown Winnipeg and contains some of the world's deadliest pathogens behind air-tight walls and biosafety cabinets.

But new documents reveal Canada's National Microbiology Lab isn't immune to leaks, spills and failures in restricted areas where lethal organisms are housed.

Health Canada documents obtained through an access-to-information request reveal close to 250 internal incidents — ranging from equipment failures to potential chemical exposures — were reported in the lab between 2005 and 2009.

The incidents range in severity and include benign finger cuts, potential exposures to chemicals and viruses such as avian influenza, and equipment failures in Level 3 and 4 containment labs.

One 2006 incident resulted in a person exposed to a "negligible" amount of a Level 4 pathogen. Problems with the air system in a Level 4 lab surfaced twice in 2008, and in the first six months of last year there were eight equipment failures in the same Level 3 containment lab.
 
 

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