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Regs Could Jeopardize Pathogen Shipments

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is planning to institute new security requirements for the shipping of pathogens. The move could make some courier companies stop accepting shipments of pathogen samples for delivery, which in turn could hurt collaborations between research labs and impede responses to public health emergencies such as swine flu.

To ship infectious disease agents within the United States, as well as between the U.S. and an overseas destination, senders have to obtain a permit from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and encase the shipment in special packaging to prevent leakage. TSA officials want to beef up the security of these deliveries by requiring packages to be tracked at all times and mandating background checks for all employees of the courier company who might have access to the packages.

TSA floated these measures in June last year in the form of voluntary guidelines for highway couriers. Officials are now converting these guidelines into regulations, Bud Hunt of TSA’s Highway and Motor Carrier Programs Office said this morning at a public meeting of an interagency working group on biosecurity.

Tracking packages throughout their journeys would be too expensive, Patrick Oppenheimer, senior manager for safety programs at FedEx Express, said at the meeting. That and other measures, such as requiring two drivers for vehicles transporting pathogen shipments, could force FedEx Express to consider, “Is this a type of business we can actually stay in?” Oppenheimer said.