Health Department Opens Special Screening Unit at Wadsworth

Unit Part of U.S.-State Anti-Terrorism Efforts

ALBANY, NY, November 29, 2006 - New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., today announced the Health Department has enhanced its ability to fight potential terrorist threats with the opening of a mobile screening unit at the Wadsworth Center in Albany.

"This secure screening unit, obtained through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will play a significant role in Wadsworth's ability to assess threats from potential health hazards and protect the security of our residents," said Commissioner Novello.

The 14-by-48-foot prototype unit is one of only two currently being operated nationwide in a year long test. Ultimately, similar units are expected to be put into use in all 50 states.

Wadsworth's scientific staff will screen environmental samples such as powders, wipes, soil and liquids in the mobile unit to rule out any potential hazards such as chemicals, radiation or harmful vapors prior to biological testing in the main facility. The use of the stand-alone facility for preliminary testing would ensure the continuous operation of the adjacent Wadsworth Center for biological testing.

"The designation of the Wadsworth Center as the site of this screening unit is a testament to the high quality of the staff and the work being done by the Center and the Department of Health at large," added Commissioner Novello.

"The selection of the New York State Department of Health to test this prototype screening unit reinforces the fact that New York State continues to be recognized as a leader nationally for its many innovative home security programs to protect our citizens," said F. David Sheppard, Director of the New York State Office of Homeland Security. "No state has done more to safeguard its residents in our nation's war against terrorism. We will continue to actively seek initiatives to enhance our level of preparedness."

The 2001 anthrax crisis raised concerns in state-operated laboratories across the country that unknown specimens delivered to them by law enforcement agencies for biological testing might contain other hazards. A workgroup chaired by the Department of Homeland Security and involving other federal agencies and the Wadsworth Center determined that screening unknown samples in a secure, sophisticated but stand-alone facility could enhance safety.

Most of the tests to be performed in the mobile unit are simple screens, for example, ones that indicate the presence of a chemical by a color change. Depending on the results, the sample would go to Wadsworth's main facility for biological testing or, if high levels of chemicals, radiation or vapors were detected, would be repackaged and transported to a suitable federal facility for further assessment.