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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 11/15/2010

Proposed lab for study of animal diseases raises safety concerns

By Rob Stein

A new report requested by Congress is raising questions about the safety of a high-security laboratory that the federal government plans to build in Kansas to study dangerous animal diseases.

The National Research Council, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, found "several major shortcomings" in a risk assessment conducted by the Department of Homeland Security. The agency is planning to open the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kan.

The lab would study a variety of dangerous animal diseases, including the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease, which can sicken cattle, pigs, deer and other animals with cloven hooves. The lab would also study diseases that can be deadly to people when transmitted between animals and humans.

The lab would be the third "Biosafety-Lebel 4 Pathogen" facility that could work with large animals in the world. The other two are in Australia and Canada. It would replace the antiquated Plum Island Animal Disease Center, about two miles off Long Island. Such research has been prohibited on the U.S. mainland since 1937.

The report estimated that there is nearly a 70 percent chance that a disease would escape the lab during the 50 years it is supposed to operate. Such an escape could have a devastating impact on the economy, costing $9 billion to $50 billion.

The new analysis, however, concludes that the risks and costs could be significantly higher. For example, the assessment does not take into consideration the risks associated with daily cleaning of large animal rooms, and with being located close to Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine clinics, according to the report.
It also underestimates how hard it would be to contain an infection if it escaped from the lab. About 9.5 percent of all the cattle in the country are with 200 miles of the site.

Another concern is the lack of adequate medical expertise in the area to deal with any infections that escape. The Mercy Regional Health Center is the only medical center nearby, and it does not have the necessary resources to handle an infection escape, the report found.

Late in the day Monday, the Department of Homeland Security released the following statement:

"The United States needs to be on the frontline of livestock animal health research and defend America against foreign animal, emerging, and zoonotic diseases. NBAF will be a modern research facility that will protect the U.S. from threats to our animal agriculture, food supply, and public health. The National Academy of Sciences found the site-specific risk analysis to be an important 'first step in an iterative process aimed at identifying and minimizing risk' and supported the need for the capabilities NBAF provides.

DHS will continue to work with USDA and the CDC to ensure all recommendations from the site-specific risk assessment are properly implemented and all biosafety and biosecurity requirements have been met. No permits will be issued by either USDA or the CDC until all requirements are met."

By Rob Stein  | November 15, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Infectious Disease  
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And which member of the Kansas congressional delegation got this facility located here as a "favor" to his constituents?

Posted by: j3hess | November 15, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

The US already has more than 10 BL-4 facilities scattered throughout the U.S. The CDC in Atlanta, GA. USAMRIID in Frederick, MD (Ft. Detrick).

All on the mainland and all focused on human pathogens. This would be different only because it focuses specifically on animal diseases that may or may not cross over into the human population. Given how much money is involved in agriculture (particularly with the consumable creatures), it's past time to have a new facility.

Posted by: Skowronek | November 15, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

That is incorrect the US does not have 10 BSL 4 Facilities in the US. It only has 2, CDC and FT. Detrick Md. then Plum Island. Then there is the one in Canada. This peson does not know what they are talking about. Have you ever designed or taken care of a Level 4 Facility, I have but you obviously have not. there is a big difference between level 3 or 3+ and 4. You must be total suited up and hooked up to outside air the whole time in level 4. There is also a plenum above and below in a level 4 lab. There are not 10 of them. Dah!.

Posted by: joyjoy3 | November 16, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse

I stand corrected on the total BL4 facilities.

Actually, I have worked at USAMRIID and had to completely suit up. But no, not as a caretaker, joyjoy3. Thanks for playing!

Posted by: Skowronek | November 16, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

According to the CDC and GAO the U.S. has 10 BSL-4 labs (with 5 yet to be completed or go online (like Bostons).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(Atlanta, GA)

USAMRIID (Ft. Detrick, MD)

Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (San Antonio, TX)

University of Texas Medical Branch
(Galveston, TX)

Georgia State University (Atlanta, GA

Virginia Commonwealth University
(Richmond, VA)

Department of Homeland Security
(Ft. Detrick, MD)

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Hamilton, MT)

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and University of TX Medical Branch (Galveston, TX)

NIAID and Boston University (Boston, MA)

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Fort Detrick, MD)

Posted by: mikemc98125 | November 17, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

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