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Complaints Against US Federal lab Over-ruled by Panel

Last May, two animal caretakers sent letters to city, state and federal agencies claiming that a U.S. government lab's disposal procedures were not stringent //enough in treating waste from animals that died of infectious diseases such as mad cow and chronic wasting disease before it was sent to the city's sewage treatment plant.

A panel was set up at the request of the federal and city officials to study the issue at length. The eight-person panel investigated the complaints against the National Animal Disease Center. The panel met in Ames on Friday to report its findings.

"It is highly unlikely for animals and humans to be exposed in such a way to cause transmission and disease," was the summary of the report. The final version is to be released on Tuesday.

"We don't feel that there's any way that there could have been any significant exposure... from the practices that (the lab) are currently having in place," said Bob Rohwer, panel member and director of the Molecular Neurovirology laboratory at VA Maryland Health Care System. Rohwer added that the procedures were safe and the workers' concerns arose from misunderstanding the difference in procedures adopted in various labs.

From the beginning, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has denied that the waste was improperly treated. The panel agrees with the department.

However, the scientists suggest that the lab treat high-risk waste before sending it to its in-house treatment plant and remove the solid waste left after pretreatment of wastewater before it's discharged to the lab's sanitary sewer.

"Things were in pretty good shape to start with, but any system can be tweaked, any system can be improved," said Steve Shafer who is the regional director of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. "We're going to be looking at the recommendations to see if there is something that we need to implement."

Tom Neumann, the control director of Ames' water and pollution, said he felt comfortable with the lab's procedures."But I can't disagree with the panel members who are saying they could do better," he added.

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