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N-BAF: Feds preparing biolab sale as TX-KS 'puss war' nears

By Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

A band of San Antonian über-boosters are rattling they’ll be suing again to try to wrest Homeland Security’s planned $500-million-plus National Bio & Agro-Defense Facility away from Kansas. Safety be damned.

Some enthusiasm, it seems, truly knows no bounds.

You see, the U.S. General Accountability Office reported last week that lab sites on the mainland examined by Homeland Security are not as safe as an existing research location off Long Island for the advanced research of virulent pathogens — “zoonotic” pathogens able to jump back and forth between humans and non-human species.

The diseases studied are to include foot-and-mouth, as well as

  • Classical Swine Fever (CSF)
  • African Swine Fever (ASF)
  • Rift Valley Fever (RVF)
  • Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP)
  • Japanese Encephalitis (JE) virus
  • Nipah Virus
  • Hendra Virus

The GAO's findings suggest that expanding Plum Island, where research into highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease has gone on for more than 50 years, makes more sense. However, with the Kansas site now officially selected, the U.S. General Services Administration (the Fed’s real-estate wing) is moving forward with plans to sell both the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and the 840-acre island it sits on to help reduce costs for the Kansas construction.

Reports Northfork.com:

The research operations at PIADC, which is under the jurisdiction of the Homeland Security Department, are scheduled to move to a more secure facility that has yet to be constructed in Kansas. Proceeds from the island's sale are slated to off-set construction costs of a $500 million Biosafety level 4 facility - the only type of research lab authorized to handle diseases that are communicable between humans and animals.



"My hope of hopes is that it continues to be used as a Biolevel-3 facility," [Southold Supervisor Scott] Russell said, adding that any residential zoning is an unlikely scenario. "It has all of the infrastructure to support research - perhaps we could get a university program over there. But I can't suggest that my idea is anything but a pipe dream."


As a U.S. Senator, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted that Plum Island was unsuitable for bio-defense work since the lab is located so close to high population centers.

Homeland Security, unsurprisingly, has suggested the work would be no more dangerous if it were performed on the U.S. Mainland, selecting Manhattan, Kansas, over San Antonio and a handful of other contenders back in January.

In a July 30 report, GAO researchers wrote in the poetically titled BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH: Observations on DHS’s Analyses Concerning Whether FMD Research Can Be Done as Safely on the Mainland as on Plum Island:

The economic analyses did not incorporate market response to an FMD outbreak — which would be related to the number of livestock in the site’s vicinity. They also did not consider the effect of establishing a containment zone to control the effects of a national export ban on the domestic livestock industry — which could have been used to differentiate across NBAF sites. The analyses were constrained by limited scope and detail. They did not incorporate worst-case outbreak scenarios.

DHS did not effectively integrate all the critical information from its analyses to characterize differences in risks between the mainland and island sites. The lack of integrated analyses raises questions as to whether the evidence DHS used to support its conclusions adequately characterizes and differentiates the relative risks associated with the release of FMD virus from site to site. Finally, our review of the EIS also found that it did not address hazards associated with large animals — a unique purpose of the NBAF. We reported on these same risks in earlier testimony.

Given the significant limitations in DHS’s analyses that we found, the conclusion that FMD work can be done as safely on the mainland as on Plum Island is not supported.


We’re hoping that when the U.S. House of Reps’ Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight takes up N-BAF again, they’ll not be too hasty to sell off Plum.

Give the spot a pass, fellas, at least until after Texas and Kansas politicians have finished repaying their respective legal communities for past campaign donations. Kansas has already set aside a cool million to stave off the Texas pro-N-BAF coalition, according to one Kansas paper.

Raise you?

Posted by gharman on 8/6/2009 1:47:23 PM
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