Lawmaker Objects to Moving Disease Lab to Kansas

Global Security Newswire | May 20, 2010

A U.S. lawmaker is arguing that a plan to replace an animal disease research laboratory in New York with a new facility in Kansas is prohibitively expensive, the Associated Press reported today (see GSN, Feb. 4).

Representative Timothy Bishop (D-N.Y.) represents an area that includes Plum Island, home to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. He argued in a letter this week to the House Homeland Security subcommittee that a move by the federal government to sell the island would bring in $50 million to $80 million. That would not begin to make up the costs associated with constructing the new $650 million, 520,000-square-foot biodefense laboratory in Kansas, the lawmaker stated.

"Before we cross a point of no return, I want everyone to open their eyes and look at what we're doing here," Bishop wrote. "Rather than pour hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars down a sinkhole in Kansas and open the Pandora's Box of decommissioning Plum Island, we should ... make use of existing facilities that continue to serve this nation well."

Congress budgeted $32 million last year for work on the advanced National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. The majority of that funding is to go toward design and planning and a safety study. President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget proposal called for another $40 million for the proposed laboratory. The new facility would permit the study of foot-and-mouth and other infectious diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans, which is beyond the capabilities of the existing site.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Plum Island facility was to found to be vulnerable to terrorist assault. That led authorities to enact measures that reduced access to the laboratory to safeguard against the chances of harmful pathogens being appropriated by terrorists for a biological weapons attack, according to a 2007 Government Accountability Office report.

The laboratory was placed under the purview of the Homeland Security Department and plans were initiated to supplant it with a "higher-level biosecurity facility."

There are worries about installing an animal disease research site in a region with a significant amount of livestock, AP reported. Nonetheless, plans are progressing for the Kansas facility. Construction of the facility is scheduled to begin this year, with operations set to begin in five years (Frank Eltman, Associated Press/Google News, May 20).

http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20100520_5443.php