Dual Use Research of Concern by Christopher Aston, Sr. Biological Safety Officer

Following national attention on the publication of two avian influenza (H5N1) studies that demonstrated expanded transmissibility of the virus, the research community has been engaged in a philosophical and policy debate over how to address the challenge of “dual-use” life science research. Dual-use research of concern (DURC) is roughly defined as research that is intended for legitimate, beneficial purposes, but also carries a risk of being misused for malicious purposes. The response from the U.S. government is in the form of the “United States Government Policy for Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern,” which will take effect on September 24, 2015. In order to comply with the government’s DURC Policy, the Columbia University Office of the Executive Vice President for Research (EVPR) and the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) have created an internal policy (the CU Policy) that outlines oversight responsibilities for Columbia University stakeholders, including Principal Investigators (PIs). These responsibilities include establishing institutional mechanisms for identifying potential dual use research, providing for expert committee review of such research and developing standards for risk assessment and management. The CU Policy is available on the EVPR website @ (http://evpr.columbia.edu/files/evpr/pdf/DURC%20Policy%20February%202015%20Final.pdf)
The DURC Policy only applies to certain types of experiments using specific high consequence materials. Nonetheless, PIs are requested to review the CU Policy to verify whether their research employs any of the fifteen infectious agents or toxins to generate any of the seven experimental effects of concern. If so, please contact the IBC to determine whether you may be subject to the CU Policy, or if you have any questions contact biosafety@columbia.edu.

Clean Your Coils! by Harry J. Oster, Sr. Fire Safety Specialist

Whether located at the University or in your home, the refrigeration coils on all refrigerators and freezers must be regularly cleaned in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions to ensure safe and efficient operation. Cleaning may be necessary as often as every month – a quick visual is typically your best indicator.
Coils and/or coil filters are either found in the front-bottom, or on top of the unit.  Occasionally they are also found in the rear of the unit.

Failure to regularly clean the coil and/or filter can cause the unit to:

  1. Work harder and longer to keep it functioning properly, thus shortening its useful life  
  2. Use more energy
  3. Overheat and/or fail unexpectedly, compromising the unit’s contents, which can lead to significant loss in a research laboratory  
  4. Create a fire condition.  A recent fire at CUMC was caused in a laboratory when the excess stress placed on the unit’s electrical and refrigeration components resulted in overheating.

A service contract is a proactive way of maximizing a unit’s efficiency and lifespan.  Short of a service contract, one can contact Facilities to discuss cleaning laboratory equipment coils to remove lint build-up or take a “do-it-yourself” approach.  Additionally, consider contracting with a company that can install equipment to monitor the temperature of your critical laboratory refrigerators and freezers. A monitoring service can provide both peace of mind and immediate notification if there is a temperature excursion beyond the normal operating range, so you can intervene quickly to prevent a loss of valuable research materials. 

For more information about critical equipment monitoring, please contact labsafety@columbia.edu


Photo shows build-up of lint across the refrigeration coils. Build-up causes the unit to work harder, run longer, use more energy, and places strain on electrical and refrigeration components that can lead to a fire.

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