Biosecurity? Australian federal lab sues contractor after fridge power left off, rare samples destroyed

A simple flick of the switch has allegedly cost the CSIRO millions of dollars and destroyed years of painstaking research

airplane.plug.johnnyIn an extraordinary civil case, the government’s national science agency is suing an occupational safety company for accidentally leaving the power off to a fridge containing extremely rare samples collected for plant and crop research.

Scientists at the CSIRO’s Black Mountain complex first noticed something was wrong in February 2006. 

A distinct smell was coming from a fridge in the Herbarium Microbiology Laboratory.

The fridge was used to store a rare collection of rhizobia, soil bacteria that live on the roots of legumes, helping to fix nitrogen in a process called “biological nitrogen fixation”.

The CSIRO says the collection, being used for advanced crop research, took years to collect and was worth “many millions” of dollars.

Some of the strains were obtained from the most remote, arid areas of Australia.

Upon investigation of the smell, a scientist quickly found the fridge to be turned off at the power point.

The CSIRO has launched action in the ACT Supreme Court against four defendants, Testel Australia Pty Ltd, Thermal Air Services Pty Ltd, and two associated individuals.

It alleged that the power was turned off to enable equipment to be plugged into a testing device, before being plugged back in at the wall. 

The power switch, however, was allegedly never turned back on.

Poop-in-water made me sick says CSIRO employee; nope says Tribunal

A CSIRO spin doctor who says she contracted a virus after drinking water contaminated with feces at a conference has lost her bid for compensation.

water.jug.feb.15The Administrative Appeals Tribunal found federal workplace insurer Comcare had no liability for her ill-health as it could not be certain the type of virus, where it had been contracted, or if it could cause chronic fatigue syndrome.

Sasha Hardcastle reported flu-like symptoms on the third day of the 2012 conference and was rushed to hospital a week later with chest pain.

Mrs Hardcastle saw a number of doctors when her health did not improve over the following months, and was diagnosed with post viral fatigue and CFS.

She claimed that she had contracted Coxsackie B virus at the conference after she drank water contaminated with feces due to the jug being filled from the hand basin in the ladies’ toilets.

The communications manager took her case to the tribunal after Comcare rejected her compensation claim.

There is no dispute Ms Hardcastle suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome.

simpsons.aust.toiletsBut Comcare did not accept that the illness had been caused by her employment or that she contracted Coxsackie B virus at the conference.

Medical experts agreed that the chances of catching Coxsackie B virus from a jug filled from the tap in a hand basin located in a toilet facility were so low that they would both be comfortable drinking the water.