Pierrette C. died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease on November 6. She had declared, in 2004 and 2005, two accidents at work during handling with the prion. This is the second employee of an INRAE laboratory to die of this pathology in two years.
New information has been unveiled on the circumstances of the death of Pierrette C, who died on November 6 in Blagnac from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The retired technician from the INRAE laboratory in Toulouse (National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment) had declared to her employer two work accidents in April 2004 and September 2005, which could be the source of the contamination.
Facts that contradict what INRAE said last July when the illness of its former employee was detected. The laboratory had indeed affirmed that there had been no traces of an accident at work.
“Both tools were contaminated with the infectious prion”
“The first accident would have taken place with a microtome, which is used to cut the frozen brains of mice, and the second with a glass slide. The two contaminated tools were with the infectious prion” assures Lorena Klein to The Dispatch, secretary of the ministerial CHSCT, ministry of higher education and research. “Medical analyzes have shown that this was not a sporadic case but a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease”.
These accidents were not reported to the staff representatives. “If the employer does not present the work accidents, it is a way of both hiding things and preventing risk prevention from coming to an end. It is up to the CHSCT to decide whether a investigation must open or not “adds Jean-Marc Nicolas, member of the ministerial CHSCT.
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This new information brings this death closer to the case of Emilie Jaumain. She was a technician in another INRAE laboratory in Jouy-en-Josas (Yvelines) and died of this incurable neurodegenerative disease on June 17, 2019, at the age of 33. She had been cut while handling fragments of the brains of mice infected with prions. His family then filed a complaint for manslaughter.
“The civil and criminal liability of the public employer must be raised”
Julien Bensimhon, the family lawyer, requested the opening of an investigation into this matter. “It is the similar circumstances of the contamination of Emilie Jaumain and Pierrette C. which lead me to alert the prosecution today” he explained to our colleagues from France3. He intends to denounce the practices and the lack of safety requirements in research laboratories.
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Jean-Marc Nicolas says he is very favorable to such a procedure: “It is necessary that the civil and penal responsibility of the public employer be posed and that justice decides. It is a long work but absolutely essential.” Unlike the private sector, the responsibility of a public employer is very little involved, “to my knowledge, it has never been in our establishments” notes the member of the CHSCT. These events raise questions as to whether the laboratory was aware of the risks of contamination. Lorena Klein agrees with this opinion, and advocates “a connection between the two deaths”.
This Tuesday, a meeting is to be held to discuss the guide to good practices for updating safety protocols in research laboratories. The cases of the two technicians who died as a result of the disease must be mentioned. Trade unionists are asking for the extension of the moratorium decreed this summer and which is due to end at the end of December.