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New emails show Wuhan lab official scrambling to find disinfectant shortly after lab opened in 2016

The lab has previously been flagged for its allegedly lax safety protocols.

Updated: July 8, 2021 - 5:44pm

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Newly released emails on Thursday showed an official with the Wuhan Institute of Virology scrambling to find disinfectant to sterilize lab equipment in the facility shortly after a high-level laboratory opened up there. 

In the emails, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch, Wuhan Institute of Virology Vice Director Yuan Zhiming is seen asking NIH virologist Jens Kuhn for help determining the right sterilization materials for the institute's BSL-4 laboratory which had just recently opened and which had apparently not yet started working with viruses. 

"I am writing to you to ask your help," Zhiming writes. "Our laboratory is under operation without pathogens, and we are now looking for the disinfectants for decontamination of airtight suits and surface decontamination indoor decontamination."

"We have tried several ones do [sic] determine their antiviral efficacy and corrosion to pipeline and wastewater treatment equipment," he cotinued. "Unfortunately, we have found a good candidate. I hope you can give us some help, to give us some suggestion for the choice of disinfectants used in P4 laboratory."

Kuhn responded that he was “not the right person to weigh in on official biosafety procedures.” He directed Zhiming to several other NIH officials who “may be able to point you in the right directions.”

The emails, released by Judicial Watch on Thursday, raise questions about the preparedness of lab officials in managing the high-stakes laboratory that would go on to perform numerous experiments on coronaviruses, many of them funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars via a U.S.-based nonprofit

The lab has been flagged in the past for its reportedly lax safety protocols. A State Department memo from 2018 expressed concern over the lab's "shortage of trained staff" at the time.