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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update

A Bloody Mess at One Federal Lab


U.S. News and World Report (06/23/97) Vol. 122, No. 24, P. 26

Employees of the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the oldest national lab in the United States, allege that they were tested for syphilis, pregnancy, and the sickle-cell gene without their knowledge. A class-action lawsuit filed by seven of the lab's 3,400 workers charged that the lab, which is run by the University of California at Berkeley for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), violated their privacy and civil rights. Berkeley Lab officials admit that they tested blood and urine samples for various conditions and that such tests were conducted with the approval of DOE. But they assert that they are not at fault because workers had agreed to having complete physicals. Lab documents show that African American and Latino workers were periodically retested for syphilis, and that African Americans were retested for sickle cell despite the fact that only one screening is necessary to identify the trait. A federal district judge in San Francisco held last year that "the three tests in question were administered as part of a comprehensive medical examination to which plaintiffs had consented." According to instructions DOE gave to contractors like Berkeley, testing for health problems is conducted to establish the fitness of applicants and as part of a health maintenance program. However, the rules also note that workers' medical records are "considered valuable epidemiologic research records," a statement that has led some employees to believe that they were part of a project to investigate minority disease patterns. DOE has refused to comment on the issue.


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