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Report: US health institute probing Arizona primate center

Pigtailed Macaque
Posted at 4:58 PM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 16:58:54-05

PHOENIX (AP) -- The National Institutes of Health is investigating a University of Washington primate facility in Arizona after a Phoenix newspaper reported finding widespread disease with the potential to compromise science at one of the nation's largest facilities for breeding pigtailed macaques.

The Arizona Republic reported Monday the institute's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare confirmed the probe started after the newspaper published its story in October and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a complaint.

The newspaper found that at least 47 monkeys had died during the past eight years at the facility north of Mesa from Valley fever, a flu-like illness caused by a fungus from regional soil.

The illness threatens results of tens of millions of dollars in research into human viruses and diseases including AIDS, HIV, hepatitis, Zika, Ebola and COVID-19, the newspaper reported, and raised questions about whether the Arizona site was the right location for the facility.

The institute's Office of Extramural Research said in a statement it takes seriously and investigates every allegation of non-compliance.

"The NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare has opened an investigation regarding the allegations sent by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals," the statement said. It also said OLAW does not comment on allegations while an investigation is underway.

The Republic said it also found:

-- Monkeys drank well water tainted with perchlorate, a contaminant leached from ponds containing rocket fuel runoff from an adjacent defense contractor, despite recommendations that a water treatment system be installed in 2016.

-- The primate center's financial situation was in disarray, according to federal reports, with high staff turnover and low morale following a sexual harassment scandal.

-- The center was cited in May for failing to alert Washington state regulators that macaques imported into the state had Valley fever and was cited by federal regulators for conduct detrimental to animal welfare. At least five monkeys had died since 2017 because of poor care or improper oversight, the Republic reported.

The institute said PETA would be informed of the outcome of the investigation and that records of the closed investigation would be available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act.

University of Washington spokesman Tina Mankowski told the Republic the university provided answers to Office of Animal Welfare questions related to a letter that referred to a story in the Arizona Republic, and that the office said no additional action was required.