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The Plague In Chicago-Unanswered Questions
A Year After the Death of University Of Chicago Professor Malcolm Casadaban

By Steve Zeltzer
Chair, California Coalition For Workers Memorial Day

One year ago on September 13, 2009 at the University of Chicago, Professor Malcolm Casadaban who had been working under a US government research on Bio-terrorism and Prevention Grant passed away. The story of his death and the reasons behind his death are still a mystery despite the deadly contamination that he received and many questions remain unanswered as new ones now come to the fore.

Professor Casadaban had been working on a live attenuated vaccine strain of Yersinia Pestis, a strain of plague, which was approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) safe for humans and for researchers in the lab that no one had died from it.  CDC and Researchers called it a vaccine strain (live-attenuated vaccine strain) and excluded the strain from their Containment list of pathogens in 2008. Professor Casadaban had worked at the University of Chicago Department of MGCB and Committee of Virology at the University of Chicago from 1980-2009. 

When the family came to Chicago for the funeral, a family member requested the Hospital autopsy team to investigate and later identified that Yersinia Pestis, its live-attenuated vaccine strain, KIM D27, had been the actual cause of death.  University of Chicago is a power house of Infectious Disease Experts and is the Center of Excellence in federal Grant support for bioterrorism, ironically, nothing appeared to these experts that Yersinia Pestis and its live attenuated Strain of KIM D27can be dangerous to the lab researchers and public at large.  No one from the University and the Center of Research attended him while he was sick.  No one warned the University of Chicago Hospital Emergency Room doctors to treat him for the dangerous pathogen, which can be acquired from work.  Furthermore, upon his death, no one from the University and its Institutions even suspected Yersinia Pestis pathogen to be the cause of death.  

Once Yersinia Septicemia on the live-attenuated vaccine strain had been identified to be the cause of death, 20 people made up of the investigational team from CDC, OSHA and Chicago Public Health (CPH) as well as from University of Chicago visited the site in the investigation of his death.  Still today, one year later, CDC, CPH and OSHA have not released their report to the family.  OSHA issued a letter of BSL2 compliance though no specific details on their approval were substantiated in their claim. 

NIH, which supported the federal research activities of Professor Casadaban and that of the Center of Excellence Grants had not even began their investigation of the case regarding serious concerns and issues relating to the health and safety conditions of the laboratories at the University and nationwide laboratories.  The containment and bio-safety rules regarding pathogenic bacteria in public health and safety should be investigated, seriously evaluated and explored particularly on the eve of the death of Professor Casadaban.

The issue of health and safety protection for biotech workers is not only critical for biotech workers but the public at large. In the cases of molecular biologist Becky McClain at the Grotton, CT Pfizer facility and David Bell at AgraQuest in Davis California all have experienced the failure of proper health and safety protection and oversight of these laboratories by OSHA.

The California Coalition For Workers Memorial Day CCWMD believes that the unanswered questions on the death of Professor Malcolm Casadaban  should  be answered not only for the peace of his family but for the public at large and regardless of the power and connections of institutions like the University of Chicago and the CDC as well as OSHA the facts on this case must come out.

Background Links: Had Bacteria For Plague At His Death &st=cse