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Stricter Rules Demanded After Boys Break Into Lab Boxes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Police and public officials Thursday called for an investigation into how four children outside a medical clinic were able to break into laboratory boxes and play with vials filled with blood, urine and other medical specimens.

Officials questioned why there are no apparent laws governing the shipment of such specimens to laboratories.

“What’s lacking is that there is no enforceable regulation that we can pursue in matters like this,” said Burbank Police Lt. Don Brown.

No criminal charges will be filed against the four boys, ages 7 to 13, for tampering with the medical samples, or against Lakeside Medical Associates, the clinic where the unlocked boxes were awaiting pickup to SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories in Los Angeles, Brown said.

“To them they might as well [have] been some magic potion; they’re 9 years old and haven’t been versed in biohazards or anything else,” said Leslie Valencia, whose 9-year-old son handled some of the samples. “As a parent you want to teach them about not doing drugs and not talking to strangers, but I never, ever thought I would have to go over biohazards with my child.”

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Four boxes filled with at least 50 samples, including blood, urine, pap smears and biopsies, were left in a parking lot behind the facility in the 600 block of Glenoaks Boulevard Tuesday evening, police said.

Police said the children broke some of the vials on the sidewalk, dumping contents from one container to another. Some of them spilled the medical specimens on their hands.

A Lakeside official said the standard procedure is for the boxes to be locked and anchored to the back door of the facility.

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Clemente Arranda Jr., 7, said he and his brother Danny Paredes, 11, were playing with two of their friends on Cedar Avenue in Burbank on Tuesday, when the friends ran across the street shortly after 6 p.m. to Lakeside’s parking lot. The two friends opened a box and began playing with the contents, said Clemente, who described the samples as being “red and yellow.” That evening, Valencia said she notified the clinic that her son had returned home with blood on his hands and a vial of blood that looked black. She said she is planning to have her son examined for HIV, Hepatitis B and other infections.

“There are laws governing used motor oil, but there’s no laws governing proper procedure and security of specimens,” Valencia said. Officials on Thursday called for a safer method of handling medical specimens before they are taken to laboratories for testing. Officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Health, the district attorney’s office, the state Board of Medical Examiners and Cal/OSHA are investigating the incident.

“I find it remarkable that any clinic would leave blood samples unguarded, unlocked outside the building,” said state Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), whose office has started looking into the possible need to regulate the handling of hazardous biomedical substances.

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Brown said the police had received calls about other area facilities that also leave medical specimens outside their offices.

“We’ve heard of other places that basically do the same thing,” he said.

Dr. Kerry Wiener, president of Lakeside Medical Associates of Glendale, which employs 20 doctors in five clinics, called the incident “an act of vandalism.”

“We believe there is no risk to the public and there is only the most remote health risk to the vandals involved,” Wiener said. “We are very concerned that this happened and have taken steps to improve security precautions so that this will not occur in the future.”

Brown, however, cautioned that “kids are going to be kids.”

“I’m not condoning it, but we as adults should not be leaving this out for kids to break into it,” he said. “The Police Department will try to make sure this will never happen again, whether through new state law or new county law.

“Not only are we concerned about the potential exposure to the community with incidents such as this, [but] we’re also concerned about the patients and safeguarding their specimens,” Brown said.

Thomas Johnson, spokesman for SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories, said the Pennsylvania-based company provides locked boxes to their clients, who are responsible for protecting the samples.

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But at Lakeside Medical on Glenoaks, SmithKline has an employee who collects the specimens, Johnson said. He declined to release the name of the employee.

“We share some of the responsibility since we have a person on site,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to figure out what happened here.”


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