RCMP are investigating a possible policy breach at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

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RCMP are investigating a possible policy breach at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

The Public Health Agency of Canada advised the RCMP of the possible breach on May 24, a spokesman for the health agency said.

Eric Morrissette told the Free Press in an email Friday the lab is "looking into an administrative matter... (and) taking steps to resolve it expeditiously."

Morrissette said no employee from the lab is under arrest or confined to their home. He declined to comment on the nature of the investigation or say when any incidents took place, citing privacy reasons.

"We can assure Canadians that there is no risk to the public and that the work of the (lab) continues in support of the health and safety of all Canadians," Morrissette said.

A spokesman for Manitoba RCMP confirmed the police service received a referral from the Public Health Agency.

"We will not speculate on the potential outcome of the investigation," Robert Cyrenne said. "Based on information received to date, the RCMP has assessed that there is no threat to public safety at this time."

Cyrenne said the Mounties have no further comment, "in order to maintain the integrity of the investigative process."

The lab is Canada’s only facility capable of handling human and animal diseases that require the highest level of containment. Its researchers regularly work with diseases such as HIV and the Ebola and Zika viruses, and helped develop ZMAPP, one of the most successful treatments for Ebola.

The facility has faced security concerns in the past. 

In 2009, former vaccine researcher Konan Michel Yao was arrested by the FBI after he tried to cross the Manitoba-North Dakota border with
22 vials of biological material stuffed in a glove in the trunk of his car. Some of the vials contained genetic material from the deadly Ebola virus, but scientists said the material was not infectious. Yao faced charges for smuggling in the U.S. He said he took the vials because he did not want to start his research from scratch at his next fellowship at another research lab.

In June, the Free Press reported scientists at the lab complained overwhelming workloads threatened safety protocols, based on a July 2015 incident report obtained through a freedom-of-information request.

The report said at one point, lab workers discovered a cracked-open Petri dish of tuberculosis under a tool bench. It had sat untouched for a year in a high-security ward.

It detailed how the working conditions led to fatigued staff, and lower-level workers being left to decide how to prioritize work as the facility fell behind on weekly task lists.

caitlyn.gowriluk@freepress.mb.ca