The Center for Disease Control is threatening to suspend the University of Hawaii medical school's ability to conduct research on highly contagious diseases.
A recent CDC inspection uncovered 30 safety infractions. The Atlanta-based center also found that infighting among staffers undermined the UH biosafety lab's readiness in case of a real bioterror attack.
"This is a lack of management and lack of leadership. It's got to be changed," said state Sen. Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai, who was part of the Senate Special Investigative Committee that looked into UH mismanagement.
"This is the same lab that's been shutdown before. It's had continuing problems."
That shutdown occurred in 2012 when the lab had to make improvements to retain its certification.
The CDC, which conducted a site visit in March and issued its findings last Monday, said the UH failed to implement a number of new safety regulations that the CDC began requiring a year ago.
"There are 30 specific demands that have to be met in a week but I don't know if the university is capable of doing that," said Slom.
UH officials say they are addressing the CDC's concerns and that they plan to formally respond by the May 26 deadline.
"We do not believe that any of the CDC's findings pose a risk to the health and safety of our personnel or the public at large," UH spokeswoman Talia Ogliore said.
UH officials say they consider some of the CDC report confidential and many staffers who work at the UH Medical School said the report hasn't been shared with them.
UH-Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple found about the report on Friday -- or five days after it was first issued. But he said he's confident that UH officials will be able to address the CDC's concerns.
"We want to make sure we comply and we're looking at things that need to be improved," Apple said.
"We'll be able to work on them to make sure the labs are working properly."
The last time the CDC shutdown a major biosafety lab was in 2007 at Texas A&M University. The school wound up agreeing to pay at $1 million fine.