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National Bio- & Agro-Defense Facility Foot-and-Mouth Disease Tour 2008!

United States Homeland Security, the Bush Administration heavy that brought you such hits as the U.S. Border Wall, Real ID, and Domestic Satellite Surveillance presents for the first time on the U.S. Mainland

Illustration by Chuck Kerr

 

The Texas Research Park Site in San Antonio, Texas, extends over the Bexar County line into a portion of Medina County. The 100.1-acre site is located west of Lambda Drive, south of the proposed extension of Omicron Drive, and is currently vacant, undeveloped land covered in dense vegetation comprised of trees, shrubs, and tall prairie grasses. The site appears to have consisted of vacant, undeveloped ranch land before 1938 to the present. The site has no zoning category because it is outside the San Antonio city limits. The entire Texas Research Park property is a 1,000-acre industrial district 4 miles outside the San Antonio city limits.

Homeland Security NBAF Draft Environmental Impact Statement

N-BAF: The proposed integrated BSL-3 and -4 research facility “would allow for basic research, diagnostic testing and validation, countermeasure development (i.e., vaccines and antiviral therapies), and diagnostic training for high-consequence livestock diseases with potentially devastating impacts to U.S. agriculture and threats to public health.”
Cost: Construction costs placed at $500 million. Could start in 2010 and be finished in four years.
Utility Needs: Access to 52,000,000 gallons of water each year; 29,000 gallons per year of wastewater capacity; 52 megawatts of electricity. Special needs include Liquid Biowaste Treatment and Carcass Disposal systems.
Jobs Provided: Less than 70.
Outbreak Economics: Promoters say the facility would be worth billions to SA’s economy. However, DEIS states a long-shot outbreak of foot-and-mouth from Texas Research Park would cost an estimated $4.1 billion. National ag groups put foot-and-mouth outbreak costs on the mainland as high as $34 billion.
An outbreak of Rift Valley Fever, on the other hand, would cause $50 billion in human and livestock deaths, as well as hits to trade and tourism, according to DEIS.

Bio-Safety Levels

BSL-1 For working with microorganisms that are not known to cause disease in healthy human humans. Think high school science room or community college introductory microbiology classes.

BSL-2 For working with agents of “moderate risk” to people and the environment. The agents studied are usually those researchers have been exposed to in the community and have already developed an immune response.

BSL-3 For handling infectious agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal diseases as a result of inhalation. Should be located away from high-traffic areas.

BSL-3Ag Research involving large agricultural animals and foreign and emerging diseases designated High Consequence Pathogens that may cause serious consequences in livestock. This level of study would take up to 73 percent of the N-BAF’s square footage. N-BAF study would include: African swine fever; classical swine fever; contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, foot-and-mouth disease, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever.

BSL-4 For handling exotic pathogens that pose a high risk of life-threatening disease in animals and humans through the aerosol route and for which there is no known vaccine or therapy. This is where the space suits, airlocks, and chemical showers come into use. N-BAF study would include: Hendra virus and Nipah virus.

Compaction Reaction
Potential ag losses are compounded by feedlot density. The U.S. GAO found that between 80 and 90 percent of U.S. cattle are housed on less than 5 percent of our feedlots.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control & NBAF DEIS

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Whether we’re chasing baboons at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research or playing Nerf guns in UTSA’s labs without our masks: We believe N-BAF belongs in San Anto.

We realize, of course, safety is job one and defer grudgingly to USHS findings that Plum Island’s:

• “prevailing seaward winds would render that location a lower risk to the regional and national agricultural economy than the mainland sites …

• “location on an island reduces the likelihood of viral transmission to people or animals …

• “generally colder climate … compared to the other alternative sites could reduce the ability of mosquitoes … to survive and maintain the virus.

• “pose a smaller threat compared to the other alternative sites.”

On the other bad hand:

• “establishment of infected mosquitoes in one of the southeastern sites could lead to a more rapid dispersal of the disease to larger human populations such as in the Atlanta or San Antonio areas and ultimately lead to a permanent reservoir of virus …

• “Many of the alternative sites are located relatively close to human populations.”

All things being equal, and considering the naturally enhanced security of off-East-Coast research, why the push to bring the germ lab onshore? Probably all things are not equal.

The Plum Island site would in fact cost an estimated $250 million more than any of the onshore alternatives. The $500-million project quickly becomes a $750-million project when it meets island real estate.

That’s why SA is such a steal!

Who’s game for a small wager USHS sees it our way and gambles to save a quarter-billion in short-term savings for the heightened risk of losing billions in lives and greenbacks down the road?

Greg Harman

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