Montreal, QC March 17, 2003 Drug discovery company MDS Pharma Services has resumed business at the area where a minor incident involving a low-energy emitting isotope occurred. The company contacted the regulatory agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, on March 14 at which time the facility was closed for clean-up. Today the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has authorized the company to resume activity in approximately 90% of the building in all but the basement laboratories where the incident occurred.
The incident happened in a lab located on the basement floor of one the company’s buildings. Low levels of the substance have been detected in other parts of the building, likely as a result of employees walking in and out of the lab. The incident does not involve any of the three other buildings that are part of the MDS Pharma Services site in St Laurent.
The problem surfaced during routine testing done as part of standard operating procedures. As soon as routine test results confirmed abnormal levels of the substance in the lab, the company restricted access to the area and contacted the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
“Our top priority is the safety and security of our employees,” says Gilbert Godin, group vice president, Early Stage Development. “Measures were taken promptly to ensure their safety and the safety of their working environment. Among those measures, we analyzed urine samples of employees working with the product. Three employees tested positive, but indications at this point show concentration levels that are 10 times below the maximum allowable annual exposure in humans. Additional tests on these and other employees have been and will be conducted.”
The substance in question is tritium, a low-energy emitting isotope occasionally used in pre-clinical and clinical testing in humans. Tritium occurs naturally in nature and does not represent a health hazard to humans unless it is ingested or inhaled in very large quantities. This isotope is essential to the drug discovery process; it is used to tag a compound for the purposes of tracing it in the human body.
“The clean up was carried out by a team of employees from MDS Pharma Services, supervised by experts in this area,” says Godin. “Clean-up of the exposed areas involved careful and methodical cleaning with water and detergent, followed by re-testing. We have worked to achieve levels which are 60 times lower than acceptable regulatory standards.”
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has been monitoring progress on the clean-up and has authorized access to all areas of the building except the areas of the basement laboratories where the incident occurred. The commission continues to lift restrictions and grant access as results are provided.