Dean Pritchard - Winnipeg Sun Staff Writer
Federal virology lab officials are defnding their method of transporting biological agents like anthrax after a FedEx van on its way to the Arlington Street lab collieded with a car yesterday.
The van was carrying five boxes containing samples of anthrax, E. coli, influenza, and tuberuculosis.
The Accident occurred shortly after 8 am at the intersection of Sherbrook Street and Logan ave. and closed down several city blocks as emergency crews ensured none of the packages had been damaged. No one was injured in the collision.
The incident raised concerns such transportation methods could expose Winnipeggers to fatal viruses or welcome attacks from terrorists.
Dr. Stefan Wagener, the lab's director of bio-safety and environment, said transporting hazardous biological agents by commercial courier is the accepted standard across North America, and Winnipeggers were never at risk.
"It has been proven to be the safest way for transporting dangerous goods", he said. "This was a routine process that happens for us everyday."
Wagener said the viruses are triple packaged for transport. Thest tubes containting samples are wrapped in plastic inside a tightly sealed container. That container is then sealed in a box. in the even of an accident, an absorbing agent will absorb whatever is spilled.
Wagener said ratcheting up security procedures would only slow the transportation of samples and hamper the lab's ability to work effectively.
Antrax is concidered a Level 3 virus, Level 4 being the highest on the scale, includes the Ebola Virus. FedEx officials said the company routinely deals with azardous cargo and provdes "comprehensive" training for satff who transport it.
"We are the people that transport that stuff safely," said health safty and environmental director Peter Balyk.
"The incident has proved that the saftest wat for those goods to be transported is my the experts. and we are the experts."
But Winnipeg Center MP Pat martin said he was shocked by the acident because of promises to beef up security following the accidental spill of cooling water in 2003.
"After the spill 2 years ago, we really thought that better safety measures would be taken," Martin said yesterday. "Now, as soon as our back is turned, we learn that FedEx is carying this material in commercial trucks through busy downtown streets."
Transporting anthrax by courier is no more dangerous that transporting gas by tanker thruck though the city, said John Lindsay, a professor with the Applied disaster and emergency studies program at Brandon University.
"Does it create risk? Yes, but we balance the benifits that we receive," Lindsay said.
"It is one of many, many risks in our communities. We move hazardous materials around our city every day. This may stand out today, because it happened, but we have many things to be concerned about"