The potential worry is not that the air hoses could have exposed the workers to germs but that chemicals released into the air from the hose material might have been unsafe to breathe.
Work at the high-security government lab that handles deadly pathogens like the Ebola virus has been suspended since Monday, when it was discovered that nylon hoses used to pump air into the scientists’ protective suits had not been designed or tested for breathing safety, officials said Friday. The hoses have been in use since 2005.
The problem, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, involved about 100 lab workers, said Steve Monroe, associate director for Laboratory Science and Safety there. There is no evidence that any have become ill as a result, he said. There is no risk to the public.
The hoses are used with protective gear that looks like a spacesuit, fully enclosing the wearer and providing its own air supply to avoid any possible contact with pathogens, some of which may be airborne.
The potential worry is not that germs could have invaded the air the workers were breathing but that chemicals released into the air supply from the hose material might have been unsafe to breathe. Air samples from the hoses are being tested to see if any harmful chemicals are present. Results are expected next week.
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Monroe said nylon was a stable compound, and he did not expect that anything of concern would be found.
The problem came to light when the CDC ordered new hoses to replace the original ones, which had been installed when the laboratory opened in 2005. The manufacturer — the same one that had provided the original hoses — informed the CDC that its products were not meant for breathing. Monroe declined to name the company.
Why the unsuitability of the hoses was not recognized in 2005 is not clear, Monroe said.