Budget Cuts Threaten Eastern Washington Lab

By Steve Jackson

The Spokane Regional Health District is appealing for help in getting continued funding for the region's only bioterrorism laboratory.

The Health District's bioterrorism lab receives federal funding from the US Centers for Disease Control. But with federal budget cuts, that money is expected to dry up as soon as the end of June.

The laboratory was used in recent weeks to confirm that letters discovered at a Spokane post office did contain the deadly poison ricin.

Washington state Senator Andy Billig says if the lab has to close, the nearest such facility to test for biological agents would be on the west side of the state in Shoreline.

Billig: "That could have taken eight to 10 hours for the packaging and the transport. And that time could have cost lives, it certainly would have delayed the investigation."

State representative Marcus Ricelli has drafted a letter to the new state secretary of health, asking that funding be secured to keep the lab open.

Riccelli: "If federal dollars are going to continue to be slashed, whats the state’s role in emergency preparedness? And I believe this asset is something we need to focus on.”

Ricelli says the new Health Secretary, John Wiesman, has not yet committed to finding additional funding for the lab.

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