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Home / Guide Collections / American Biological Safety Association Collection

American Biological Safety Association Collection

American Biological Safety Association Records Introduction

In 2007, the American Biological Safety Association entered into an agreement with the National Agricultural Library for the library to process, preserve, and provide access to the collection which documents the history of the Association.

Rachel Telford, Special Collections Intern from the University of Maryland, completed the processing at the National Agricultural Library in 2008.


Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library (NAL) acquires, arranges, describes, preserves and makes available rare materials significant to the history of agriculture. Materials are obtained through donation or active collection in accordance with the established Special Collections collection development policy. Special Collections staff organize and describe materials according to archival principles and create descriptions and indexes to enhance access. Staff do not edit or otherwise modify the original materials. The views expressed in the collections do not necessarily reflect the policies of the National Agricultural Library or the United States Department of Agriculture.

Organizational History

The American Biological Safety Association (ABSA) was founded in 1984 to promote biosafety as a scientific discipline and to serve the growing needs of biosafety professionals throughout the world. Biosafety concerns the safe handling of biological materials, particularly infectious agents that cause risk to humans working with them.

Although ABSA was officially founded in 1984, almost 30 years earlier, on April 18, 1955, 14 representatives from Camp Detrick, Maryland; Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas; and Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah met at Camp Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. The purpose of the meeting was to share knowledge and experiences regarding chemical, biological, radiological, and industrial safety issues that were common to the operations at the three principal biological warfare laboratories of the United States Army: the Biological Research Laboratories at Camp Detrick, the Biological Production and Development Laboratories at Pine Bluff Arsenal, and the Biological Assessment Laboratories at Dugway Proving Grounds. This meeting was the first biological safety conference. Due to the nature of the work conducted at the biological warfare laboratories, papers presented at the conference had to be cleared in advance by security officers and attendance was restricted to persons with top secret security clearances.

Beginning in 1957, the biological safety conferences were planned to include non-classified sessions to enable broader sharing of biological safety information with personnel not associated with the United States Army biological warfare programs. But it was not until 1964 that the conference was held at a government installation not associated with the biological warfare program; the National Animal Disease Laboratory, in Ames, Iowa. Over the first 10 years, the biological safety conferences grew to include representatives from all federal agencies that sponsored and/or conducted research with pathogenic microorganisms, and by 1966 included representatives from universities, private laboratories, hospitals, industrial complexes, and 17 government installations.

Throughout the 1970s, participation in the conferences continued to grow, and by 1983, discussions began regarding the creation of a formal organization. The American Biological Safety Association was officially established and a constitution and bylaws were written in 1984; however, the constitution was not ratified by members until 1987.

As of 2008, ABSA membership includes over 1,600 professionals from across the nation, and over 20 countries, including Brazil, Canada, and Japan. Its goals are to provide a professional association that represents the interests and needs of practitioners of biological safety, and to provide a forum for the continued and timely exchange of biosafety information. In addition to conducting annual biological safety conferences to keep members informed of current biosafety issues and regulatory initiatives, and offering registration and certification, ABSA publishes and distributes a quarterly journal, Applied Biosafety, and conducts a selection of biosafety courses geared at the beginner and advanced levels. In addition, ABSA produces an annual membership directory to stimulate networking. ABSA is committed to its members in four broad areas: developing and maintaining professional standards for the field of biological safety; advancing biological safety as a scientific discipline through education and research; providing members sustained opportunities for biosafety communication, education, and participation in the development of biological safety standards, guidelines and regulations; and expanding biosafety awareness and promoting the development of work practices, equipment, and facilities to reduce the potential for occupational illness and adverse environmental impact from infectious agents or biologically derived materials.

Scope and Content Note

The American Biological Safety Association (ABSA) Records contain materials dating from 1949 to 2007. The earliest material predates the official founding of ABSA, and the most recent materials document the 50th Annual Biological Safety Conference in 2007. The bulk of the materials span from the mid 1960s to the mid 1990s. Items contained within the collection include correspondence, meeting minutes, conference programs and proceedings, photographs, and publications.

Organizational Information is found in Series I-VII. These files include the constitution and bylaws in draft and final form, committee records such as meeting minutes and policies, membership information, certification and professional registration information, financial records, presidential files and executive correspondence files.

A large portion of the collection deals with annual biological safety conferences (Series VIII). This section consists of conference programs and proceedings, post-conference reports, and correspondence between ABSA officers, members, vendors and speakers, relating to the conferences. Additionally, photographs of conference attendees and speakers can be found in Series X.

Series IX contains publications, including a history of Fort Detrick, which was home to early biological warfare research during World War II; Safety Bulletins, published by Safety Division, Fort Detrick; and a Fort Detrick publication entitled Defense Against Toxin Weapons.

Photographs are found in Series X. Subjects pictured include attendees and speakers at biological safety conferences, in both candid and posed photographs, and lab equipment and personnel using equipment. This series contains both professional and amateur photography.

Series XI consists of a Slit Sampler, a device used to collect and count samples of atmospheric dust or air-borne bacteria.

The collection contains few materials prior to 1964. There is no documentation of the biological safety conferences held between 1955 and 1963, and documentation of subsequent conferences is incomplete.

The American Biological Safety Association is an active national organization with international affiliates and since the National Agricultural Library is a repository for this organization, the collection will continue to grow. Each series, subseries and sub-subseries begins with a folder numbered one to accommodate for future growth of the collection.

Series Description

Series I. Constitution and Bylaws. 1987-1988. 1 file folder.

This series consists of ABSAs constitution and bylaws in draft form, and in a final, published version.

Series II. Committee Records. 1983-1996. 0.5 box.

This series consists of meeting minutes, correspondence, and policy statements.

Subseries II.A. Steering Committee Minutes.

This subseries consists of Steering Committee Meeting minutes.

Subseries II.B. Annual Meeting Minutes.

This subseries consists of Annual Meeting minutes.

Subseries II.C. Business Meeting Minutes.

This subseries consists of Business Meeting minutes.

Subseries II.D. Executive Council.

This subseries consists of records of the Executive Council.

Sub-subseries II.D.1. Minutes.

This sub-subseries consists of Executive Council Meeting minutes, arranged chronologically.

Sub-subseries II.D.2. Policy.

This sub-subseries consists of the Executive Council policy, in draft form, and final, published form.

Sub-subseries II.D.3. Correspondence.

This sub-sub series contains correspondence to and from Executive Council members, regarding Executive Council business, arranged chronologically.

Sub-subseries II.D.4. Directors Files.

This sub-subseries consists of the files of Executive Director Edward Stygar, 1992-1996, and includes correspondence, financial documents and legal documents, arranged chronologically.

Series III. Presidential Files. 1978-1994. 0.25 box.

This series consists of the files of ABSA presidents, which contain correspondence, membership information, and memoranda, arranged chronologically by president.

Series IV. Financial Records. 1982-2004. 1 file folder.

This series consists of financial statements, reports and summaries for the organization and selected biological safety conferences.

Series V. Correspondence. 1985-1996. 1 file folder.

This series contains correspondence to and from ABSA committee members on a variety of topics.

Series VI. Membership. 1984-1994. 0.5 box.

This series contains materials relating to membership, including directories of general membership, charter members, and corporate members.

Series VII. Certification and Professional Registration. 1987-2006. 0.5 box.

This series contains correspondence, forms, and policies relating to Biological Safety Professional Registration and Biological Safety Professional Certification.

Series VIII. Annual Biological Safety Conferences. 1964-2007. 5 boxes.

This series contains materials relating to the annual Biological Safety Conferences. Materials are arranged chronologically within each subseries.

Subseries VIII.A. Planning and Registration. 1964-1997.

This subseries includes correspondence between ABSA officers, members speakers and vendors relating to conference planning and registration, papers presented, financial documents, and conference locations.

Subseries VIII.B. Programs and Proceedings. 1964-2007.

This subseries includes conference programs, schedules, proceedings and post conference reports.

Series IX. Publications. 1952-1997. 1 box.

This series contains publications relating to biological safety, including monographs and Biological Safety Bulletins. The materials are arranged chronologically.

Series X. Photographs. 1950-1984, n.d. 2 boxes.

This series includes photographs of attendees and speakers at biological safety conferences, and of biological safety equipment, arranged chronologically.

Subseries X.A. Biological Safety Conference Group Photographs. 1963-1985.

This subseries includes group photographs of Biological Safety Conference attendees.

Subseries X.B. Biological Safety Conference Speakers and Attendees. 1972-1984.

This subseries includes both professional and amateur photographs of conference attendees and speakers. Included are negatives for some images.

Subseries X.C. Laboratory Equipment and Laboratory Equipment in Use. 1950-1975.

This subseries includes images of animal transfer cages, Freon leak testing, a slit sampler, and lab personnel.

Subseries X.D. ABSA Logo. n.d.

This subseries consists of a negative of the ABSA logo.

Series XI. Equipment. n.d. 1 container.

Series XI consists of a Slit Sampler, a device used to collect and count samples of atmospheric dust or air-borne bacteria. The principle of operation is based on the passage of air by means of a vacuum source through the slit opening in the top of the sampler at the rate of one cubic foot per minute. The organisms in the air are impinged on an agar plate, which is rotated by means of a timer mechanism located in the base of the sampler.


Barbeito, Manuel S. and Richard H. Kruse "A History of the American Biological Safety Association Part I: The First Ten Biological Safety Conferences 1955 - 1965." Journal of the American Biological Safety Association, 1997, 2(3): 7-19.

Barbeito, Manuel S. and Richard H. Kruse "A History of the American Biological Safety Association Part II: Safety Conferences 1966 - 1977." Journal of the American Biological Safety Association, 1997, 2(4): 10-25.

Barbeito, Manuel S. and Richard H. Kruse "A History of the American Biological Safety Association Part III: Safety Conferences 1978 - 1987." Journal of the American Biological Safety Association, 1997, 3(1): 11-25.

Bourdillon, R.B., O. M. Lidwell; John C. Thomas. "A Slit Sampler for Collecting and Counting Air-Borne Bacteria," The Journal of Hygiene. 1941, v.14, n.2.

Kuehne, Ralph W. and Herbert M. Decker. "Studies on Continuous Sampling of Serratia marcescens Using a Slit Sampler." Applied Environmental Microbiology. 1957. v.5: 281-343.