Spokane leaders fight to protect regional bioterrorism laboratory

Spokane leaders fight to protect regional bioterrorism laboratory

May 28, 2013

Lab positively identified ricin as part of recent threat, in danger of closing due to budget cuts

For more information, contact Kim Papich, SRHD Public Information Officer (509) 324-1539
Spokane, Wash., –  May 28, 2013 – Spokane elected officials, law enforcement officers and health experts gathered on Tuesday to speak on the role of Spokane Regional Health District’s (SHRD) bioterrorism laboratory during the recent ricin threat and took questions on the future of the bioterrorism laboratory in the face of budget cuts.
“The Spokane Regional Health District plays a major role in keeping people safe,” said City of Spokane Councilmember and board of health member Amber Waldref. “We are lucky to have an emergency preparedness asset like their bioterrorism lab in our city.”
Federal funding for the bioterrorism lab comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC dollars come through the state’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response (PEHPR) fund, which has diminished in recent years.
“We need a short-term and long-term fix. After June 30, there will likely be leftover PHEPR dollars statewide that can be rolled over and used to forestall closure of this lab,” noted State Representative Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) who convened the press conference. “It’s critical that we work with our federal partners, the governor, law enforcement and our health officials to secure funding to keep the lab operational to safeguard our community now and in the future.”
“Additional funding for the lab is critical to ensuring that Spokane and all of the Inland Northwest are prepared to respond in the event of a public health incident such as a bioterrorism threat,” added State Senator Andy Billig (D-Spokane). “We need to step up and ensure the experts at this facility can continue to protect our region.”
SRHD’s bioterrorism lab played a critical role in protecting public health during the ricin incident earlier this month. Its staff received the specimens, processed and analyzed them, and determined that they did – in fact – contain ricin toxin.
“Effective emergency planning in our community must include our ability to rapidly and accurately detect bioterrorism threats. The emphasis should be on building capacity in the public health system and that requires a sustained investment in people, technology and materials,” said Spokane Regional Health District Public Health Director Dr. Joel McCullough.
Staff at the bioterrorism lab are specially certified to package and ship potential biological agent materials – procedures that are highly-regulated and require specific training. Beyond ricin, the lab can do confirmatory testing for other select biological agents such as anthrax, plague and tularemia.
“If this lab didn’t exist, the nearest facility that could handle this type of scientific analysis is in Shoreline, Wash.,” said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. “When you consider special packaging, shipping, travel and processing, it could have been ten hours before we knew what kind of threat we were facing.”

For interviews or more information:
Kim Papich, Public Information Officer, Spokane Regional Health District, 509-994-8968 (c),
Rep. Marcus Riccelli, 509-879-7805 (c) or
Staff: Quinn Majeski, 206-484-5277 (c) or
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