Safe handling of dangerous germs

The Birth of International Biohazard Legislation

This bibliography charts the birth of safety controls on dangerous pathogens, sometimes known as 'germ law'. This began as a concept in 1971, and by 1984 gave rise to an international framework of safety controls.

The laws covering scheduled poisons, harmful sprays and food additives have long been in existence to help prevent disease. But the situation was very different when it came to the safe handling of disease germs. There are many types of pathogen used in research laboratories. Bacteria (including those that cause cholera and typhoid) are examples. There are also viruses, including the agents that cause polio, AIDS, and smallpox (which is still held in selected centres).

For these there was no legal control. The Public Health regulations meant that someone carrying typhoid in their gall bladder could be arrested: but the same germ in culture, in a bottle in the pocket, could be taken into a public place with no sanction. A framework for safety regulations was drawn up and published, in both the legal and scientific journals The campaign for biohazard law was expounded in a major article in Nature, and was later supported in the press - including a major leading article in The Times. Subsequent outbreaks caused by an escape of pathogens from a laboratory showed how the new regulations were timely needed. Such regulations are now in use throughout the world, and cases of infections from laboratories have been curtailed.

This bibliography charts the first fifteen years, during which the concept was changed from an idea into international reality.


BJF, 1971, No Law For Bacteria, London: The Observer: 14, 1 August.

BJF, 1971, No Legal Control of Biological Hazards, Public Health, New Law Journal, 121: 823-824, 16 September.

Anon, 1971, Disease ‘risk’ in Labs (report), The Guardian: 5, 17 September.

Berlin, Marcel, and Wright, Pearce, 1971, Call for Law to Control Laboratory Poisons, The Times: 2, 17 September.

BJF, 1972, Viruses against Pests [unpublished proof], The Times, 29 May.

Report, 1973, Absence of regulations for Microbes is risk to Public Health, expert says [interview with BJF], The Times, 11 April.

Anon, 1973, The Case for a Far Wider Enquiry [leader column in support of above campaign, 11 April], The Times, 18th April.

Report, 1973, Author repeats Microbe warning, South Wales Echo, 11 April.

BJF, 1973, The Proposal for Biohazard Legislation: Its Implications for Microscopy [lecture], Inter-Micro 73, King’s College, Cambridge, 20 July.

BJF, 1973, ‘Regrettable Episodes of infection ...’ [in] The Optical Microscope Manual: 196, London: George Harrap, Sydney and Aukland: Reed International.

BJF, 1973, Biohazard Law Proposals, [in] The Revealing Lens: Mankind and the Microscope: 201-202, London: Harrap.

Anon, 1973, In Focus - Bugs that can Kill and Cure, South Wales Echo, Leader Page, 28 September.

BJF, 1974, Call For Biohazard Legislation, Nature, 250: 364-365, 2 August.

Glick, J. L., 1976, Reflections and Speculations on Regulation of Molecular Genetic Research [quotes BJF’s Biohazard paper, Nature, (1974) 250: 364-365], in Annals of the New York Academy of Science: 178 et seq., June.

BJF, and Slade, J. S., 1983, Discharge to the Environment of Viruses in Wastewater, Sludges and Aerosols [leading chapter in] Viral Pollution of the Environment: 3-15, Editor G. Berg. Boca Raton: CRC Press, June.

Dovkants, K., with Gruner, P., 1984, Germ Laboratory Expert Warns [interview with BJF], London Evening Standard: 1, 13 January.

Leader, 1984, Germ Folly, Editorial, London Evening Standard: 7, 13 January.