PRESS RELEASE

USGS Nominee Carries Heavy Bio-Safety Baggage

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 05, 2022
Contact:
Peter Jenkins (202) 265-4189 pjenkins@peer.org


USGS Nominee Carries Heavy Bio-Safety Baggage

Whistleblowers Decry Inaction & Reprisal on Wildlife Disease Lab Breaches

 

Washington, DC —President Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Geological Survey, David Applegate, is ignoring repeated releases of pathogens from bio-security laboratories handling potentially lethal wildlife diseases, according to a letter from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Beyond sending the letter of concern from PEER to the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, which is slated to consider Applegate’s nomination later this spring, PEER is also –

    • Filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit today to force Applegate’s USGS to produce numerous documents relating to several recent releases from bio-secure wildlife disease labs located in Seattle, WA, and Madison, WI;
    • Formally requesting that the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General undertake a vulnerability analysis of USGS wildlife disease labs; and
    • Litigating a whistleblower case in which a USGS scientist has been stripped of her lab access and other duties after reporting an environmental breach discharging untreated viruses and other pathogens into wetlands adjoining Washington State’s second largest lake and largest urban park near Seattle for six months before it was discovered.

“We urge the Senate to closely examine Mr. Applegate’s role in ensuring that USGS wildlife labs are operating safely and that scientists may report safety issues without fear of retaliation,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse. “With the world in the grip of a pandemic caused by a zoonotic disease that spread between animals and people, the importance of maintaining bio-security in our federal wildlife disease labs cannot be overemphasized.”

Unlike every other federal and state agency conducting this type of research, USGS is not independently accredited. That means USGS managers are free to overlook lapses, however dangerous. In 2021, as acting director, Applegate rebuffed a call by scientific organizations to voluntarily submit USGS wildlife labs to accreditation.

Lack of accreditation also means scientists who report lab breakdowns have no outlet for these issues to be quickly resolved. Instead, they are forced to risk their careers by becoming whistleblowers, as evidenced by the current case in the USGS Seattle lab.

“Mr. Applegate’s record in protecting whistleblowers merits extra scrutiny,” added Whitehouse, noting that managers who retaliated in the Seattle lab whistleblower case have been promoted. “We are concerned confirmation of Mr. Applegate without assurances from him that he will protect whistleblowers and assure bio-safety will only reinforce the dysfunctional dynamic now rampant inside USGS.”

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Read the letter to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

View request for IG Vulnerability assessment of USGS wildlife disease labs

See FOIA lawsuit

Examine ongoing whistleblower case

Revisit call for accreditation of USGS labs Applegate rejected