10,000 lab animals drowned at NYU due to stupidity, says lab care expert

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  November/December 2012:

 NEW YORK CITY–More than 10,000 mice and rats drowned or died from toxic fumes released by ruptured generator fuel and exhaust lines at the Joan and Joel Smilow Research Center on October 29, 2012.

Part of the Langone Medical Center at New York University, the Smilow Center occupies a 13-floor building,  but the mice and rats were housed in the basement,  more than 20 feet below the crest of the surge from Hurricane Sandy.  Apparently no one considered trying to evacuate them before the electricity failed and all personnel left on the premises were drafted to help evacuate 215 human patients from nearby Tisch Hospital.

NYU spokeswoman Jessica Guenzel told Sharon Begley of Reuters that the Smilow Research Center lost 7,660 cages of mice and 22 cages of rats.  Each cage housed between one and seven animals.

“This happens again and again and [research labs] never learn,”  responded National Academy of Sciences board on life sciences director Fran Sharples.  “It’s really stupid,”  Sharples said,  “to put your animals in the basement if you’re in a flood zone.” Sharples recalled that 35,000 mice,  several hundred rabbits, 78 monkeys,  and 35 dogs were killed when Hurricane Allison struck the Baylor University College of Medicine and University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center in 2001.  Another 10,000 mice, rats,  monkeys,  and dogs were killed in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina flooded the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine and parts of Tulane Univeristy.

    “Animal resource staff were on site continuously to mitigate the damage from the storm,  but due to the speed and force of the surge,  animal rescue attempts were unsuccessful,”  NYU said in a prepared statement,  asserting that the Smilow basement lab was built to withstand a storm surge 20% higher than had previously been recorded,  and that “a vast majority of our animals used for biomedical research were unharmed.”  The National Academy of Sciences’ Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals requires that laboratories should have a disaster plan,  and that “The plan should define the actions necessary to prevent animal pain,  distress,  and deaths due to loss of systems such as those that control ventilation,  cooling,  (or) heating.”  However,  observed Begley,  “The guide does not prohibit housing lab animals in basements and does not specifically address the threat of floods.”

A similar disaster was averted at the Koch Cancer Research Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore when,  hours ahead of Sandy,  senior staff including the dean of medicine formed a human chain to pass cages of lab mice up a stairwell to floors that stayed dry.

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