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Message to the University Community (Released: 11/29/01)

From President Philip E. Austin

As you probably know, two vials possibly containing anthrax were discovered yesterday (Tuesday, November 27) in the Pathobiology Building on North Eagleville Road. I want to provide additional information about how this situation developed and what we are doing in response, in coordination with relevant state and federal agencies.

The mission of the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science is research, instruction and outreach related to disease. In the late 1960s, the diagnostic laboratory in the department used culturing techniques to determine the cause of death of an animal. The cultured samples, which contained anthrax, were placed in vials, sealed, and frozen; they were not subsequently used. The University is not currently engaged in anthrax-related research.

The University's Environmental Health and Safety Department regularly advises academic departments to identify and destroy dangerous pathogens not required as part of existing research protocols. In October the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science undertook to destroy all identified vials containing anthrax samples. For reasons currently under investigation by law enforcement agencies including University and State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, two vials were not destroyed. This was reported to the University yesterday.

Immediately upon learning of the existence of the vials believed to contain anthrax, we communicated with the Connecticut Department of Public Health. While we have no reason to believe that the vials caused any contamination in the building, clearly an abundance of caution is in order. The DPH is currently testing the two vials as well as environmental swabs taken from the laboratory and we expect results within the next two days. In addition, the DPH has asked the University to identify UConn experts in laboratory procedures, including faculty from the Health Center, to work with DPH staff to review the laboratory procedures that were used in the handling of these materials. That process has begun and we expect the team will have findings very shortly. The information developed, in addition to the results of the tests the DPH is currently conducting, will assist the DPH in assessing the possibility of exposure. I want to express my appreciation to the DPH as well as the Governor's Office for their prompt assistance.

Until the investigation is complete and we are assured that the facility is safe, the Pathobiology Building will be closed. Classes were cancelled today (Wednesday). Classes and other activities scheduled for the Pathobiology Building tomorrow (Thursday) will be relocated, as will be the case if the building remains closed on Friday. Students, faculty and staff should consult the website at www.canr.uconn.edu/pathoclass to determine the location of classes.

The University is committed to doing everything possible to protect the safety of our students, faculty, and staff. We plan to build on our broad range of existing health and safety activities. Specifically, the University will initiate immediately a comprehensive review to make certain that all hazardous materials on campus conform to existing research protocols or are otherwise appropriately authorized. I appreciate the cooperation of every member of the community, particularly including research faculty, as we implement the review.

More information will be provided as it becomes available.

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