Dusty, poorly ventilated and sometimes unsanitary animal-care facilities have landed the University of Washington on probation and could...

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Dusty, poorly ventilated and sometimes unsanitary animal-care facilities have landed the University of Washington on probation and could cost it millions in medical research funds if fixes to the aging buildings aren’t made, university officials say.

Problems ranging from a steamy monkey room to inadequate lighting were cited by a private accrediting agency that visited UW animal labs.

The university must improve the facilities or risk losing accreditation and decreasing its chances of winning lucrative federal research grants.

“Serious deficiencies that had the potential to negatively impact the health, well-being and safety of animals and humans were not being identified,” the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) said in a nine-page letter to the UW.

Problems cited in monkey labs included leaking steam heat from a cage-washing device; doors too small to allow some cages to pass through; several severe diarrhea outbreaks; and no alarms for heating or air-conditioning failure.

Other labs had “intense” odor and dust levels from faulty ventilation; improperly caged rodents; heat and air-conditioning problems; and filthy cages.

The agency praised the UW for some of its operations, including veterinary care, medical records, training programs and its overall occupational safety and health program.

UW officials said in interviews that most of the problems stem from 50- to 60-year-old wings of the Health Sciences complex and a lack of federal funding to fix them. Much work must be done to improve the buildings, the UW officials said.

“We’ve hit a wall and we’ve got to fix the wall,” said John Coulter, executive director for UW Health Sciences Administration.

More than $20 million is needed from UW coffers for relatively short-term fixes, the officials said. The expense of a new building, for now, is prohibitive, they said.

The AAALAC conducted its site visit in June and reported its findings to the UW in November. UW officials said they decided to release the report Monday because animal-rights activists had obtained it and the UW wanted its explanations of the deficiencies made public.

About 5 to 15 percent of the research facilities visited every three years by the agency receive probationary or similar status on their accreditation, said Dr. John Miller, executive director. Accreditation review is voluntary, but institutions consider full accreditation essential to be competitive for research grants.

The UW has until May 1 to show substantial progress or risk losing its accreditation. Efforts after that will be monitored by the agency.

Some of the relatively easy fixes already have been made, officials said Monday.

Monkeys needing larger cages, for example, have been moved to rooms that can accommodate them. About 30,000 mice and rats were moved to the new William H. Foege Building, opened last March, with good ventilation, heating and air conditioning. Alarms and temperature controls have been installed. Personnel have been retrained.

But several UW officials interviewed in a group on Monday said permanent fixes will be difficult and expensive in the old buildings. The officials included Coulter; Denny Liggitt, chair of the comparative medicine division; Nona Phillips, director of the office of animal welfare; Dave Anderson, director of the UW primate lab; and Thea Brabb, associate professor of comparative medicine.

A sixth-floor wing housing dozens of animal labs is 60 years old, they said. Another wing housing some primate facilities is about 50 years old. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning ducts are outmoded. Walls, ceilings and floors are in disrepair, making sanitation difficult. Lighting is inadequate in many places. Some animals are still in those older wings.

On July 4, 2005, some 500 mice died on the sixth floor from heat reaching 104 degrees after the air-conditioning system failed in three rooms and the heater turned on. The system was repaired soon after.

Liggitt said federal grants matched by UW and state funds used to amount to more than $4 million a year for renovations. But in recent years the federal funds were halted for all institutions.

The last time the UW failed to receive immediate accreditation for animal facilities was 1997, but the fixes were easier, Phillips said.

In 1995, the university risked losing its U.S. Department of Agriculture accreditation for its primate-breeding facility near Spokane when five baboons died from cold-weather exposure or thirst. The school paid a $20,000 fine and closed the aging facility.

Warren King: 206-464-2247 or wking@seattletimes.com