A Maryland inspection report on two accidents at a Kensington lab that processes the AIDS virus found the firm expanded too rapidly without adding necessary safety precautions.
In a report released yesterday to The Washington Post under a Freedom of Information Act request, officials from the Maryland Division of Labor and Industry said no sanctions were taken after the accidents because Maryland has no standards that apply to handling the acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus.
Spills of the AIDS virus occurred Oct. 23 and Oct. 30 at the lab, Bionetics Research Inc., 5516 Nicholson La. A technician from Derwood was cut on the forehead Oct. 30 when a 20-liter glass container of the virus exploded. The technician immediately disinfected the wound and has not yet shown any exposure to the virus. He told The Post he still works at the lab and undergoes weekly blood tests.
The company is one of a handful in the United States that have been licensed by the federal government to process the live virus for use in kits that detect AIDS antibodies in blood. The detection tests were approved last March and their manufacturers have been overwhelmed by demand from blood banks, hospitals, the military and other employers, as well as private doctors.
Both accidents were caused by pressure buildup in the manufacturing system, according to inspection reports. The reports show the firm failed to install an air pressure regulator that would have prevented the Oct. 23 accident, in which the connections to a rubber hose blew off, spewing liquid tissue cultures on the floor. In the Oct. 30 accident, the firm was installing an automatic control panel for the operation, but it was not yet working.
Labor inspectors said an expert from the National Institutes of Health told them the accidents posed only a slight risk to employes, including the injured technician, because of the fragile nature of the virus and the small amount involved. Because the hazards were judged not to be life-threatening, the firm could not be cited under the state's "general duty" clause, which requires firms to provide a safe environment for their workers.
Inspectors said they found contradictory reports of the accident. The plant's safety officer, for example, said an employe wore a respirator when turning off the flow of virus during the Oct. 23 hose rupture, but the employe said he "entered the room holding his hand over his mouth and nose."
Officials of the firm, who could not be reached yesterday, told the state that the company replaced glass containers with plastic and uses safer mechanical pumps, instead of compressed air, in its processing system.