Safe handling of dangerous germs

The Birth of International Biohazard Legislation

This bibliography charts the birth of safety controls on dangerous pathogens (viruses, bacteria, etc) sometimes known as 'germ law'. The campaign began in Britain in 1971, and by 1984 had given rise to a framework of safety controls enacted in many countries.

Although laws covering scheduled poisons, harmful sprays and food additives have long been in existence to help prevent serious illness, the situation was very different when it came to the safe handling of disease germs. There are many types of pathogen handled in research laboratories. There are dangerous viruses, currently SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19) and also including the agents that cause polio, AIDS, and smallpox (which is still held in selected centres). Bacteria (including those that cause cholera and typhoid) are other examples of dangerousn pathogens which had never been subject to legal safety controls.

The Public Health regulations meant that someone carrying typhoid in their gall-bladder could be arrested and detained: but the same germ in culture, in a bottle in the pocket, could be taken into a public place with no threat of sanction. A framework for safety controls was drawn up and published, in both the legal and scientific journals The new biohazard law was first mentioned in a letter to the Observer in 1971; proivisions were formally set down in a paper for the New Law Journal. It was expounded in a major article in Nature, and was later supported in the press - including a report and a leading article in The Times. Extensive discussions in parliament and elsewhere evetually sanctified the ideas in law. Subsequent outbreaks caused by an escape of pathogens from a laboratory showed how the new regulations were timely. Such regulations are now in use in many nations, and cases of infections from laboratories have been largely curtailed.

This bibliography charts the time during which the concept was changed from an idea into reality.


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

BJF, 1971, No Legal Control of Biological Hazards, PublicHealth, New Law Journal, 121 (5511): 823-824, 16 September.

Anon, 1971, Disease 'risk' in Labs , The Guardian: 5, 17 September.

Berlins, Marcel, and Wright, Pearce, 1971, Call for Law toControl 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BJF, 1972, Viruses against Pests [unpublished proof], The Times, 29 May.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], The Times, 11 April. [See also: Leader column in The Times, 18 April].

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

Anon, 1973, The Case for a Far Wider Enquiry [leader column in support of above campaign, 11 April], The Times, 18 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, Newton Abbott: David & Charles, Sydney and Aukland: Reed International.

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

Hemsley, John, 1973, Bugs, the Good and the Bad, Reading: Evening post, 21 September.

Hemsley, John, 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.

BJF, 2020, COVID-19 video No 1 - Virus on your Shopping, dur: 4'38", 26 March.

BJF, 2020, COVID-19 video No 2 - Virus on your Mail, dur: 3'36", 26 March.

BJF, 2020, COVID-19 video No 3 - How do you Catch it? dur: 6'14", 30 March.

BJF, 2020, COVID-19 video No 4 - How small is a Virus? dur: 3'07", 3 April.

BJF, 2020, COVID-19 video No 5 - Meet the Virus, dur: 5'00", 6 April.

Richard Jacobs, 2020, interview: Research Scientist Brian J. Ford Talks Microbiology, Microbes, and Viruses, Finding Genius podcast, 6 April.

BJF, 2020, COVID-19 video No 6 - A Plea to Government, dur: 4'18", 9 April.

BJF, 2020, COVID-19 video No 7 - Truth Unmasked, dur: 10'47", 10 April.

BJF, 2020, COVID-19 video No 8 - Bronnet to the Rescue! dur: 11'06", 14 April.

BJF, 2020, COVID-19 video No 9 - Cultural Interlude, dur: 3'47", 9 April.