Improper air hoses in CDC labs posed no threat: U.S. agency

Air hoses over a decade old found to be safe; not approved for breathing air

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Testing of hoses used to supply air to scientists working in U.S. labs that handle the world's most deadly pathogens found they did not pose any health risk, even though the hoses that had been used for years were not approved for breathing air, officials said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention briefly closed down its Biosafety Level-4 laboratories on Feb. 16 after discovering that the air hoses installed when the labs were built in 2005 were not approved for breathing air.

In a statement on Monday, the CDC said testing by an independent laboratory showed the air supplied through the hoses met standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for breathable air.

"We tested the air that was coming through the existing hoses and found the air quality was satisfactory," CDC spokesman Bert Kelly told Reuters. Kelly said the labs were closed less than 24 hours for the testing, and CDC scientists have since resumed work in the labs.

CDC officials learned about the problem when they were ordering replacement hoses, and were told by the manufacturer that they were not certified for breathing air.

"We are still going to replace hoses through a normal process," Kelly said, adding that the CDC's BSL-4 laboratories have about 180 air hoses.

The air hoses are part of the building's infrastructure. They drop down from different ports within the lab, and scientists plug the hoses into their protective suits from different work stations.