Safe Science and the Need for Improved Lab Protection

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Photo credit: Keck Graduate Institute

In June of this year, five years after the UCLA laboratory fire that claimed the life of a staff research assistant, the case against organic chemistry professor Patrick Harran came to an end. 

The fire started when Sheharbano Sangji’s plastic syringe broke and exposed a volatile chemical to the air. Without a protective lab coat, she suffered severe burns and died 18 days later. UCLA and Sangji’s supervisor, Harran, were held accountable for the accident, though the charges against UCLA were dropped in 2012.

Now, the charges against Harran will be dismissed thanks to the deferred prosecution agreement. Part of the agreement includes speaking to new UCLA students about the importance of lab safety.

The UCLA accident was not an isolated incident. In January 2010, a Texas Tech graduate student was severely injured in a laboratory explosion. He had neglected several safety precautions, including the use of a blast shield and personal protective wear. Just over a year later, in April 2011, an undergraduate student was killed in Yale’s laboratory machine shop. She was asphyxiated when her hair became tangled in a lathe.

These accidents — and others like them — highlight the need for improved lab safety. But enforcing compliance to a series of increasing regulation can only go so far in protecting researchers. Academic laboratories need a better, more permanent solution. That solution is to adopt a culture of safety:

A culture of safety in academic laboratories that transcends inspections, standard operating procedures, and chemical safety plans. A true safety culture represents a total commitment to achieving safety even in the absence of specific rules or other regulatory guidance. It means making safety a ongoing operational priority.

That’s what the National Research Council recommends in its new report, Safe Science: Promoting a Culture of Safety in Academic Chemical Research. The report’s recommendations challenge many longstanding ideas about chemical research, and ask for a fundamental shift in how we approach lab safety. Adopting a culture of safety is the best way to mitigate the inherent dangers of the laboratory and to protect our researchers.

To read the report, visit Safe Science’s page on our website.

Science and Infectious Disease: Resources to Understand the Ebola Outbreak

isolation-ward
This photo shows MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) health staff in protective clothing constructing perimeter for an Ebola isolation ward.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 670 people and spread to four countries. The disease has no vaccine and no specific treatment. It has a fatality rate of at least 60%. What do we know about infectious diseases, and what can we do to monitor and prevent their spread? Reports of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academies are a great resource to understand the science that will be critical to resolving this crisis. All are free to download.

Infectious Disease Movement in a Borderless World: Workshop Summary

Modern transportation allows people, animals, and plants–and the pathogens they carry–to travel more easily than ever before. The ease and speed of travel, tourism, and international trade connect once-remote areas with one another, eliminating …

[more]

Sustaining Global Surveillance and Response to Emerging Zoonotic Diseases

H1N1 (“swine flu”), SARS, mad cow disease, and HIV/AIDS are a few examples of zoonotic diseases-diseases transmitted between humans and animals. Zoonotic diseases are a growing concern given multiple factors: their often novel and unpredictable …

[more]

Vector-Borne Diseases: Understanding the Environmental, Human Health, and Ecological Connections, Workshop Summary (Forum on Microbial Threats)

Vector-borne infectious diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and plague, cause a significant fraction of the global infectious disease burden; indeed, nearly half of the world’s population is infected with at least one type of …

[more]

What You Need to Know About Infectious Disease

About a quarter of deaths worldwide–many of them children–are caused by infectious organisms. The World Health Organization reports that new infectious diseases are continuing to emerge and familiar ones are appearing in new locations around …

[more]

Global Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events: Understanding the Contributions to Infectious Disease Emergence: Workshop Summary

Long before the “germ theory” of disease was described, late in the nineteenth century, humans knew that climatic conditions influence the appearance and spread of epidemic diseases. Ancient notions about the effects of weather and climate on …

[more]

Achieving Sustainable Global Capacity for Surveillance and Response to Emerging Diseases of Zoonotic Origin: Workshop Summary

One of the biggest threats today is the uncertainty surrounding the emergence of a novel pathogen or the re-emergence of a known infectious disease that might result in disease outbreaks with great losses of human life and immense global economic …

[more]

Resources on Groundwater Loss in Western States

loss of groundwater

This photo taken by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shows that surface-water depletion in the Colorado River Basin has left this “bathtub ring” of mineral deposits on Lake Mead. While it can be easy to spot surface-water loss, groundwater loss is invisible.

A new study by NASA and University of California at Irvine reports that seven Western states that rely on the Colorado River Basin for water are drawing more heavily from groundwater supplies than previously believed, the latest indication that a historic drought is threatening the region’s future access to water.

Does climate change influence drought? What should be done to both provide water and protect ecosystems? Reports from the National Research Council explore these questions. Our resources discuss the science of climate change, consider climate change impacts at community and national levels, and recommend areas for further research. We also have reports that discuss options to provide water by improving water management and promoting water reuse. All are free to download.

Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises

Climate is changing, forced out of the range of the past million years by levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases not seen in the Earth’s atmosphere for a very, very long time. Lacking action by the world’s nations, it is clear that …

[more]

Advancing the Science of Climate Change

Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for–and in many cases is already affecting–a broad range of human and natural systems. The compelling case for these conclusions is provided in …

[more]

Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change

Across the United States, impacts of climate change are already evident. Heat waves have become more frequent and intense, cold extremes have become less frequent, and patterns of rainfall are likely changing. The proportion of precipitation that …

[more]

Global Change and Extreme Hydrology: Testing Conventional Wisdom

Climate theory dictates that core elements of the climate system, including precipitation, evapotranspiration, and reservoirs of atmospheric and soil moisture, should change as the climate warms, both in their means and extremes. A major …

[more]

Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation’s Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater

Expanding water reuse–the use of treated wastewater for beneficial purposes including irrigation, industrial uses, and drinking water augmentation–could significantly increase the nation’s total available water resources. Water Reuse

[more]

Desalination: A National Perspective

There has been an exponential increase in desalination capacity both globally and nationally since 1960, fueled in part by growing concern for local water scarcity and made possible to a great extent by a major federal investment for desalination …

[more]

Prospects for Managed Underground Storage of Recoverable Water

Growing demands for water in many parts of the nation are fueling the search for new approaches to sustainable water management, including how best to store water. Society has historically relied on dams and reservoirs, but problems such as high …

[more]

Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability

Recent studies of past climate and streamflow conditions have broadened understanding of long-term water availability in the Colorado River, revealing many periods when streamflow was lower than at any time in the past 100 years of recorded …

[more]

Challenges Facing the CDC’s Research Laboratories as They Review Lab Safety

Following several recent incidents of possible exposure to dangerous diseases, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced last week that it has halted operations at its bioterrorism rapid-response lab and an influenza lab and imposed a moratorium on any biological material leaving numerous other CDC labs. National Research Council reports discuss operational safety and security and measures for encouraging a culture of responsible conduct when working with select agents. These titles can provide insight into the challenges facing these laboratories. All are free to download.

Biosecurity Challenges of the Global Expansion of High-Containment Biological Laboratories

During July 10-13, 2011, 68 participants from 32 countries gathered in Istanbul, Turkey for a workshop organized by the United States National Research Council on Anticipating Biosecurity Challenges of the Global Expansion of High-containment Biological Laboratories. The United States Department of State’s Biosecurity Engagement Program sponsored the workshop, which was held in partnership with the Turkish Academy of Sciences. The international workshop examined biosafety and biosecurity …

[more]

Perspectives on Research with H5N1 Avian Influenza: Scientific Inquiry, Communication, Controversy: Summary of a Workshop

When, in late 2011, it became public knowledge that two research groups had submitted for publication manuscripts that reported on their work on mammalian transmissibility of a lethal H5N1 avian influenza strain, the information caused an international debate about the appropriateness and communication of the researchers’ work, the risks associated with the work, partial or complete censorship of scientific publications, and dual-use research of concern in general.

Recognizing that …

[more]

Evaluation of the Updated Site-Specific Risk Assessment for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas

Safeguarding U.S. agriculture from foreign animal diseases and protecting our food system require cutting-edge research and diagnostic capabilities. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have embarked on an important mission to replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) with a new facility, the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). When operational, this new facility would be the world’s fourth biosafety level-4 …

[more]

Responsible Research with Biological Select Agents and Toxins

The effort to understand and combat infectious diseases has, during the centuries, produced many key advances in science and medicine–including the development of vaccines, drugs, and other treatments. A subset of this research is conducted with agents that, like anthrax, not only pose a severe threat to the health of humans, plants, and animals but can also be used for ill-intended purposes. Such agents have been listed by the government as biological select agents and toxins. The 2001 …

[more]

Protecting the Frontline in Biodefense Research: The Special Immunizations Program

The U.S. Army’s Special Immunizations Program is an important component of an overall biosafety program for laboratory workers at risk of exposure to hazardous pathogens. The program provides immunizations to scientists, laboratory technicians and other support staff who work with certain hazardous pathogens and toxins. Although first established to serve military personnel, the program was expanded through a cost-sharing agreement in 2004 to include other government and civilian workers, …

[more]

Sequence-Based Classification of Select Agents: A Brighter Line

Select Agents are defined in regulations through a list of names of particularly dangerous known bacteria, viruses, toxins, and fungi. However, natural variation and intentional genetic modification blur the boundaries of any discrete Select Agent list based on names. Access to technologies that can generate or ‘synthesize’ any DNA sequence is expanding, making it easier and less expensive for researchers, industry scientists, and amateur users to create organisms without needing to obtain …

[more]

Research in the Life Sciences with Dual Use Potential: An International Faculty Development Project on Education About the Responsible Conduct of Science

In many countries, colleges and universities are where the majority of innovative research is done; in all cases, they are where future scientists receive both their initial training and their initial introduction to the norms of scientific conduct regardless of their eventual career paths. Thus, institutions of higher education are particularly relevant to the tasks of education on research with dual use potential, whether for faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate and undergraduate …

[more]

Our cybersecurity expert gives his take on the charges of cyberattack by the Chinese army

The recent charges of hacking into US corporate targets against five members of the Chinese army has brought the issue of cybersecurity into the headlines. We asked Herb Lin, one of the editors of our new report on the intersection of cybersecurity and public policy, for his thoughts:

“As discussed in At the Nexus Of Cybersecurity and Policy, this story brings to the fore differences in how the United States and virtually every other nation view intelligence gathering. The United States draws sharp distinctions between intelligence for national security purposes and for economic purposes, whereas China (and most other nations in the world) do not. The difference in values is not likely to be reconciled any time soon. It also turns out that access was gained through the use of relatively unsophisticated penetration techniques, thus underscoring the point that simple defensive techniques can have significant value.” — Herb Lin, Chief Scientist at the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board

Watch this video of Herb running down six things to know about cybersecurity and public policy, and some of the things we can do to start tackling the problems:

NAP.edu is (and always was) unaffected by the Heartbleed bug

heartbleedYou may have heard a lot of worrying things about the Heartbleed web security vulnerability, and to be sure, it’s worrying. But nap.edu is totally unaffected by Heartbleed and was never in danger (slightly more technical version: we were not running the affected version of Open SSL), so you can rest assured that your login and payment information on NAP are and always have been completely secure with us. You don’t have to change your MyNAP password, though it’s generally a good practice to change out all of your passwords regularly and make sure that you have a unique password for each website you log onto.

While we’re on the subject, we thought you might like to take a break from hearing about Heartbleed to read more about cybersecurity from some of the expert research that the Academies have done on the topic. We picked out some of the notable titles and put them in our Cybersecurity Collection.

Start of a New Trend? Preschool Obesity Rate Declines

Great news! According to a new report, the obesity rate among 2–5-year old children has dropped 43 percent during the past decade, the first significant decline in an epidemic that often leads to lifelong struggles with weight and higher risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke. The not-so-great news—we still face challenges to reduce the incidence of obesity in the United States, as a third of adults and 17 percent of youth are obese.

Reports about obesity from The Institute of Medicine provide guidance for health professionals, policymakers, schools, and concerned citizens to continue their efforts to improve the health of Americans. We’ve listed some of them below, and have more in our special collection of obesity titles. All are free to download.

Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School

Physical inactivity is a key determinant of health across the lifespan. A lack of activity increases the risk of heart disease, colon and breast cancer, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression and others diseases. … [more]

Evaluating Obesity Prevention Efforts: A Plan for Measuring Progress

Obesity poses one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century, creating serious health, economic, and social consequences for individuals and society. Despite acceleration in efforts to characterize, comprehend, and act on this … [more]

Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation

One-third of adults are now obese, and children’s obesity rates have climbed from 5 to 17 percent in the past 30 years. The causes of the nation’s obesity epidemic are multi-factorial, having much more to do with the absence of sidewalks and the … [more]

Creating Equal Opportunities for a Healthy Weight: Workshop Summary

Creating Equal Opportunities for a Healthy Weight is the summary of a workshop convened by the Institute of Medicine’s Standing Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention in June 2013 to examine income, race, and ethnicity, and how these … [more]

Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policies

Childhood obesity is a serious health problem that has adverse and long-lasting consequences for individuals, families, and communities. The magnitude of the problem has increased dramatically during the last three decades and, despite some … [more]

Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines

As women of childbearing age have become heavier, the trade-off between maternal and child health created by variation in gestational weight gain has become more difficult to reconcile. Weight Gain During Pregnancy responds to the need … [more]

Bridging the Evidence Gap in Obesity Prevention: A Framework to Inform Decision Making

To battle the obesity epidemic in America, health care professionals and policymakers need relevant, useful data on the effectiveness of obesity prevention policies and programs. Bridging the Evidence Gap in Obesity Prevention identifies … [more]

Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity

The prevalence of childhood obesity is so high in the United States that it may reduce the life expectancy of today’s generation of children. While parents and other adult caregivers play a fundamental role in teaching children about healthy … [more]

Does Climate Change Influence Drought?

After three consecutive years of below-normal rainfall, California faces its most severe drought emergency in decades. This image from NOAA of snow in the Sierra Mountains illustrates how the historic lack of rain has created a water shortfall.

drought_california_map

NOAA image

Governor Jerry Brown has called for Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent voluntarily, and mandatory rationing could be ordered soon so that homes, businesses and farms don’t run dry over the summer. California’s drought has far-reaching consequences that include dramatically less water for farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas.

Does climate change influence drought? What should be done to both provide water and protect ecosystems? Reports from the National Research Council explore these questions. Our resources discuss the science of climate change, consider climate change impacts at community and national levels, and recommend areas for further research. We also have reports that discuss options to provide water by improving water management and promoting water reuse. All are free to download.

Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises Climate is changing, forced out of the range of the past million years by levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases not seen in the Earth’s atmosphere for a very, very long time. Lacking action by the world’s nations, it is clear that … [more]

Advancing the Science of Climate Change Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for–and in many cases is already affecting–a broad range of human and natural systems. The compelling case for these conclusions is provided in … [more]

Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change Across the United States, impacts of climate change are already evident. Heat waves have become more frequent and intense, cold extremes have become less frequent, and patterns of rainfall are likely changing. The proportion of precipitation that … [more]

Global Change and Extreme Hydrology: Testing Conventional Wisdom Climate theory dictates that core elements of the climate system, including precipitation, evapotranspiration, and reservoirs of atmospheric and soil moisture, should change as the climate warms, both in their means and extremes. A major … [more]

Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation’s Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater Expanding water reuse–the use of treated wastewater for beneficial purposes including irrigation, industrial uses, and drinking water augmentation–could significantly increase the nation’s total available water resources. Water Reuse[more]

Desalination: A National Perspective There has been an exponential increase in desalination capacity both globally and nationally since 1960, fueled in part by growing concern for local water scarcity and made possible to a great extent by a major federal investment for desalination … [more]

Prospects for Managed Underground Storage of Recoverable Water Growing demands for water in many parts of the nation are fueling the search for new approaches to sustainable water management, including how best to store water. Society has historically relied on dams and reservoirs, but problems such as high … [more]

Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta Extensively modified over the last century and a half, California’s San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary remains biologically diverse and functions as a central element in California’s water supply system. Uncertainties about the future, actions … [more]

A Review of the Use of Science and Adaptive Management in California’s Draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan The San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary is a large, complex estuarine ecosystem in California. It has been substantially altered by dikes, levees, channelization, pumps, human development, introduced species, dams on its tributary streams and … [more]

A Scientific Assessment of Alternatives for Reducing Water Management Effects on Threatened and Endangered Fishes in California’s Bay Delta California’s Bay-Delta estuary is a biologically diverse estuarine ecosystem that plays a central role in the distribution of California’s water from the state’s wetter northern regions to its southern, arid, and populous cities and agricultural … [more]

Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability Recent studies of past climate and streamflow conditions have broadened understanding of long-term water availability in the Colorado River, revealing many periods when streamflow was lower than at any time in the past 100 years of recorded … [more]

The NAP Guide to the 2014 State of the Union Address

This year’s State of the Union address focused on topics including energy, education, climate change, and gun violence. The National Academies Press provides resources directly related to these issues. Below, we’ve annotated the complete text of the President’s State of the Union speech with relevant reports from the National Academies that provide authoritative, independent guidance on these issues.

Continue reading

Happy 10-Year Anniversary, Mars Rovers!

marsrover-800wJanuary marks the 10-year anniversary of the landings on Mars of rovers Spirit and Opportunity. These marvels of engineering have inspired students all over the world to continue in the quest for understanding of the solar system. We’ve produced a number of reports that have helped to define the scientific goals and objectives for exploration of Mars. All are free to download.

An Astrobiology Strategy for the Exploration of Mars Three recent developments have greatly increased interest in the search for life on Mars. The first is new information about the Martian environment including evidence of a watery past and the possibility of atmospheric methane. The second is the … [more]
Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022 In recent years, planetary science has seen a tremendous growth in new knowledge. Deposits of water ice exist at the Moon’s poles. Discoveries on the surface of Mars point to an early warm wet climate, and perhaps conditions under which life … [more]
Preventing the Forward Contamination of Mars Recent spacecraft and robotic probes to Mars have yielded data that are changing our understanding significantly about the possibility of existing or past life on that planet. Coupled with advances in biology and life-detection techniques, these … [more]
Assessment of NASA’s Mars Architecture 2007-2016 The United States and the former Soviet Union have sent spacecraft to mars as early as 1966, with Mars’ exploration being priority for NASA spacecraft. Both sides, however, have failed as well as succeed. The inability to determine if life exists … [more]
Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions NASA maintains a planetary protection policy to avoid the forward biological contamination of other worlds by terrestrial organisms, and back biological contamination of Earth from the return of extraterrestrial materials by spaceflight missions. … [more]
Assessment of Mars Science and Mission Priorities Within the Office of Space Science of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) special importance is attached to exploration of the planet Mars, because it is the most like Earth of the planets in the solar system and the place … [more]