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EPA Reduces Charges in Bacteria Case : Clears Way for Licensing Genetics Firm to Test New Organism

June 07, 1986|THOMAS H. MAUGH II | Times Science Writer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reduced the charges it filed against Advanced Genetic Sciences Inc. of Oakland for having tested genetically engineered bacteria on its rooftop and has lowered the amount of a proposed fine from $20,000 to $13,000.

The action clears the way for the firm to work toward reinstatement of its license for testing the microorganism in the environment. The EPA has told the company to repeat the disputed rooftop tests in a greenhouse before the license is renewed.

Advanced Genetic Sciences President Joseph Bouckaert said Friday, "While we may have misunderstood the notice requirements set forth by the agency regarding preliminary testing of microbial pesticides at our research facilities, AGS is committed to take steps to assure that, in the future, it conducts its work in full accord with EPA guidelines."

The EPA suspended that license in March when an Advanced Genetic Sciences employee revealed that the firm had injected the engineered bacteria--which is designed to prevent frost formation at temperatures slightly below freezing--into trees on its rooftop in violation of EPA guidelines, which did not permit use of the organism outside a laboratory.

The EPA had charged that the company knowingly falsified information submitted to the agency by claiming that the rooftop experiments had been done in a laboratory.

After an EPA audit of the firm's record and facilities, however, the agency Friday downgraded that charge to "failure to adequately report." The agency also dropped allegations that the engineered bacteria produced a pathogenic reaction in the trees.

The firm had planned to test the bacteria on a field of strawberries in Monterey County this spring, but the county Board of Supervisors blocked the test even before the EPA suspended the company's license. The firm is now seeking an alternate site to conduct the tests this fall.

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