Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
About InterVac and Safety
Who will regulate InterVac?
Containment Level 3 laboratories such as InterVac that work with human and terrestrial animal pathogens must be certified by the Public Health Agency of Canada's Office of Laboratory Security Centre for Biosecurity. Containment Level 3 labs working strictly with non-endemic animal pathogens are certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Office of Biohazard Containment and Safety. As InterVac works with human and animal diseases, both Agencies regulate work that takes place at InterVac.
InterVac's Biosafety Officer reports to the Director of VIDO-InterVac, and works closely with the U of S Biosafety Office and the Federal Regulatory Agencies, ensuring adherence to strict federal regulations.
How can the community have confidence that InterVac will be operated safely?
Containment facilities effectively isolate pathogens by using state-of-the-art equipment and stringent protocols. A Containment Level 3 facility built in accordance with the regulations is safe to work in, and safe to both the public and the environment. InterVac is built to exceed current Containment Level 3 requirements: it is more secure than standard Level 3 laboratories.
Access to the InterVac labs is highly restricted and controlled, with 24-hour security personnel on-site. All incoming and outgoing air flow passes through a series of HEPA filters and all effluent and waste is sterilized. Contaminants will be prevented from getting in or out. Rigorous safety practices, state-of-the art safety equipment and specially engineered building features protect laboratory personnel and the surrounding community from exposure to infectious agents.
What happens if there are concerns within the local community?
The CLC will ensure full and open communication on safety issues related to InterVac.
This committee is comprised of representatives of diverse local stakeholder groups. The CLC is responsible for seeking information on activities of community concern, as well as for monitoring issues related to safety and any incidents of potential public interest. Members of the public are encouraged to contact the CLC with any questions or concerns.
If concerns raised with VIDO-InterVac management are not addressed, the committee is authorized to direct unresolved concerns to the U of S Vice-President Research, the President of the University of Saskatchewan and appropriate government and regulatory officials, with the authority to take the issue to the public at large if necessary.
How will the CLC keep me updated on what’s happening at InterVac?
This website will keep you up to date and informed on any issues with the potential to affect the safety of the public.
In addition, we hold annual public meetings where you can ask questions directly of the people who work at and operate InterVac.
If you have a question or concern about the safety of InterVac in our community, you are invited to contact the CLC at any time.
What role does the CLC play in decision-making at InterVac when it comes to safety issues?
VIDO-InterVac management and InterVac’s Biosafety Officer, in cooperation with the University of Saskatchewan’s Biosafety manager, are responsible for decisions related to safety at VIDO-InterVac. Although the CLC does not have a decision-making role related to safety, the CLC can direct unresolved safety concerns to the U of S Vice-President Research, the President of the University of Saskatchewan and appropriate government and regulatory officials for discussion and resolution.
Is my neighbourhood safe now that InterVac is operating near it?
Yes, your neighbourhood is safe because of the exacting architectural and engineering features of the building combined with specialized training of all personnel prior to working in InterVac, and implementation of the strictly defined and monitored procedures within the facility.
Are my pets safe?
Yes, people and pets in Saskatoon and agricultural livestock in areas surrounding the city are safe from any biological materials handled in InterVac for the same reasons as listed above.
How dangerous are these microorganisms to the public?
The bacteria and viruses that may be studied in InterVac are classified by the Public Health Agency of Canada as requiring Containment Level 3. These are described as having high individual risk, but low community risk. If an individual working in InterVac, such as a lab technician, is accidentally exposed to a bacteria or virus with which they are working and is subsequently infected, he or she may become ill. Procedures are in place to respond to any accidental exposure, including immediate consultation with the Saskatoon Health Region's Medical Health Officers, and possible isolation of the individual involved.
Working in a biological safety cabinet and wearing respiratory protection protects the worker and the environment from the hazards of risk group 3 infectious agents.
Who is monitoring the safety of InterVac?
The Public Health Agency of Canada under the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency under the Health of Animals Act, regulate all work conducted at VIDO-InterVac to ensure that InterVac’s physical containment and operational protocols meet the requirements for a containment level 3 facility. InterVac undergoes annual re-certification by these agencies. All personnel conducting research in InterVac are highly trained for work in containment level 3 and they are responsible for doing so safely. The day-to-day monitoring of safety in InterVac is carried out by VIDO-InterVac’s Biosafety Officer.
What are some examples of things that could go wrong, and what would that mean for our community?
Procedures are in place to deal with things that may go wrong, and personnel are trained and practiced in these responses.
For example, in the event of a spill of biological material in a lab, protocols are in place and personnel trained to clean up the spilled material and decontaminate all surfaces affected. A small spill will be cleaned up and surfaces disinfected with an effective disinfecting chemical. A large spill may prompt chemical fumigation of the entire lab to ensure all surfaces are decontaminated. All solid waste generated in InterVac is decontaminated by steam sterilization, with tests in place to ensure that successful sterilization is achieved before the waste leaves the facility. Since all exhaust air leaving labs is passed through high efficiency particulate air filters, aerosols potentially released into the lab air at the time of the spill will be trapped by the HEPA filters and will not exit the building into the environment.
In the event of a loss of power to the University, InterVac’s three emergency power generators will automatically start up and run at approximately 2/3 of their capacity, which is adequate to power all building services. If one generator fails to start, the other two will ramp up their production accordingly. Procedures are in place for the generators to be regularly tested to ensure smooth startup if required.
What happens if there is a breakdown in one or more safety mechanisms?
InterVac is a finely tuned facility, with a team of highly trained individuals working in it. Any loss of function will be detected immediately by the building’s control system and a relevant signal or alarm will be triggered, along with the appropriate response.
Redundancy has been designed into the mechanical systems of InterVac. A breakdown of one will automatically trigger the increase in function of others, or the start of backup equipment. For example, the exhaust air from the InterVac laboratory is controlled by four exhaust fans which each run at 60% capacity and if one breaks down, the other three increase their capacity to ensure air movement and filtration is not compromised. If there are a series of major failures throughout multiple building systems, the various components are designed to close in an airtight configuration to prevent the potential release of any contaminants.
Procedures are in place and personnel trained to respond to any breakdown in mechanical function. The complex building control system allows personnel to monitor the status of the temperature, humidity, pressure and directional airflow of an individual area of InterVac before entering that area; if a parameter is not normal, personnel will not enter the area and will contact the building’s security personnel for more information.