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High Security Animal Disease Lab Faces Uncertain Future 105

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-in-my-backyard dept.
Dupple writes in with a story about the uncertain future of a proposed bio lab in the heart of cattle country. "Plans to build one of the world's most secure laboratories in the heart of rural America have run into difficulties. The National Bio and Agro defense facility (NBAF) would be the first US lab able to research diseases like foot and mouth in large animals. But reviews have raised worries about virus escapes in the middle of cattle country. For over fifty years the United States has carried out research on dangerous animal diseases at Plum Island, just off the coast of New York. However after 9/11 the Department of Homeland Security raised concerns about the suitability of the location and its vulnerability to terrorist attack."
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High Security Animal Disease Lab Faces Uncertain Future

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  • The scientists owe it to the people there to reduce the risk of an escaped pathogen by as much as they can. Once they do that, there really shouldn't be anything to complain about--it would just be pure, irrational fear from what I can see.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The easiest way to reduce the damage caused by an escaping pathogen is to release it into the wild now. That way if it escapes from the lab later no harm is done.

    • Re:Safety First (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:37PM (#41998279) Journal

      The scientists owe it to the people there to reduce the risk of an escaped pathogen by as much as they can. Once they do that, there really shouldn't be anything to complain about--it would just be pure, irrational fear from what I can see.

      Arguably, siting the lab in the middle of a giant supply of natural hosts for the pathogens being studied is a massive failure of risk reduction, no matter how many sci-fi airlocks they pencil in...

      • I'm sorry. Maybe I'm missing something. I mean, I know it wasn't the wisest area for it, but if the pathogens can't be released, or are at very low risk for doing so, what's the danger? I know if something is released it will spread extremely quickly, but if the proper precautions are taken, how would anything be released? Are they less capable of keeping pathogens in than they're claiming?
        • Re:Safety First (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Requiem18th (742389) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @11:14PM (#41998775)

          Yes, if the security is perfect then there is no problem. In the same vein, putting it on an island near NY is completely safe as long as NY doesn't get hit by Tsunami or terrorist/millitary attacks. Yet they are speculating about placing it in the middle of the country precisely because you can't expect things to go alrgiht forever.

          Part of the question then is, what is more likely? Disseases escaping containment procedures or a cataclysmic event devastating NY? Before 9/11 or Sandy (and I'd wager Sandy is the real kicker here) such pondering would seem the stuff of Science Fiction. But considering this AGW problem is here to stay, you can only expect worse storms to come in the future. Relocating the lab to the iddle of the country seems like a better idea right now.

          My question here is, don't you guys have lots and lots of dessertic zones? Just put it there. Or is it packed already with too many secret millitary bases?

          • Re:Safety First (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Cassini2 (956052) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @11:30PM (#41998825)

            Disease escape is a far more likely failure mode than terrorist attack. Microbes have evolved over millions of years to be easy to spread.

            In terms of terrorist attack, New York is on the eastern seaboard not far from Washington DC. A relatively close radius should contain: half of the US Navy's Atlantic fleet, huge amounts of coast guard assets, thousands of FBI agents, and a pretty massive city police presence. No where else in America is safer.

            • Sounds like somebody is forgetting 9/11.

              • To clarify - the safest place to be is somewhere that nobody gives a shit about. NY is an obvious terrorist target, and the fact that some people consider it the most secure place in the US would be enough reason to attack it. It might be conventionally safe, but right now perhaps someone is planning some method of attack that was so crazy that nobody else has even considered it, as happened with 9/11.

            • These are bio-hazard level 3 and level 4 labs. The same procedures that are used to study diseases like Smallpox and Ebola. Know where else in the US facilities like these exist? Boston, Richmond Virginia, San Antonio Texas, Atlanta Georgia, and Fort Detrick Maryland (less than 50 miles from Washington DC). So, investigating highly contagious, highly lethal diseases in major population centers is ok, but investigating animal diseases with the same precautions in cattle country isn't? This just screams N

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            And it's not like they don't have tornadoes in tornado alley.
        • by AK Marc (707885)
          Go read Lab 257.
          • Read the Wikipedia page. It sounds interesting. It seems like a lot of people dismissed the book, but then they would, wouldn't they? I don't know if this was a sarcastic comment or not, but I'm actually going to check the book out, so thanks!
            • by AK Marc (707885)
              For something that claims to be non-fiction, it was a surprisingly entertaining read.
        • If there's anything I learned from books, it's that all proper precautions can be defeated by a single person breaking a single rule and releasing Captain Tripps into the wild.

      • by OverlordQ (264228)

        > Arguably, siting the lab in the middle of a giant supply of natural hosts for the pathogens being studied is a massive failure of risk reduction, no matter how many sci-fi airlocks they pencil in...

        You know, except for the fact K-State runs a level 3 lab literally right next door to where they'd build this new level 4 lab. In addition Kansas is home to quite a few underground salt caverns that would mitigate the fear of tornadoes.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You mean like the CDC in Atlanta?

      • by Sulphur (1548251) on Friday November 16, 2012 @12:17AM (#41998989)

        The scientists owe it to the people there to reduce the risk of an escaped pathogen by as much as they can. Once they do that, there really shouldn't be anything to complain about--it would just be pure, irrational fear from what I can see.

        Arguably, siting the lab in the middle of a giant supply of natural hosts for the pathogens being studied is a massive failure of risk reduction, no matter how many sci-fi airlocks they pencil in...

        What if terrorists bring erasers and pencil them out.

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        CDC in down town Atlanta.
        Level 4 biohazard lab in the middle of 9-10million people.
        Just sayin

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      Yeah, like around Plumb Island, where Lyme disease was discovered, and there are suspicions of other diseases being released accidentally (but perhaps deliberately). So I'd say that fear of an escaped pathogen wouldn't be irrational.
    • by dywolf (2673597)

      The CDC has a Biohazard Level 4 lab in the middle of downtown Atlanta, one of the biggest sprawlingest metro cities in the country (ATL itself only has ~1mil people population...but the entire metro and all the people that work there comes to around 9m, and thus is why ATL traffic suck so damn bad; ATL is the biggest city without a real, modern, metro system, and it desperately needs one..so glad I moved..but im getting off topic). Point is: its scary as hell to have such a thing in the middle of so many pe

  • I'm sure that security is better where God and the County Sheriff are packing.

  • THAT... sounds completely stupid. i'd want to put something like this somewhere it CAN'T do any harm if it gets out...
    The arctic sounds nice.

    I also kind of wonder what kind of nasty stuff got washed out of plum island in the hurricane. There's some fairly scary storys about that place. Oh sure most is prolly overblown bullcrap. But it only takes a little truth to kill a whole bunch of people... :(

    • by lunatick (32698)

      Actually nothing, The place has survived much worse hurricanes (1978 and 1984) during my lifetime.

  • I'm not worried about some virus spontaneously escaping into the wild. What I'm concerned about is a bunch of militant "animal rights" nitwits getting in and "liberating" diseased animals, causing all kinds of hell.

    "Free the animals, man!"

    "That's probably not a good idea given their condition."

    "Screw you, OPPRESSOR!"


    *frees diseased animals anyway*

    Yes, that's the exact thing that happened in 28 Days Later. Yes, I can see that actually happening. All it takes is a bunch of ill-informed, militant,

    • that's what I was thinking as soon as I saw the title.

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      that's dumb, solid ingress egress control (double doors can't open both ends at once) is really all that is needed
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, surely no one will ever become complacent after working there for a long time.

        Many biological safety and containment protocols are regularly disregarded at least in part because scientists think that their own lower assessment of the risk is more accurate than the "bureaucrats" who designed the protocols. Dealing with the lab moron(s) in BSL-2 is a pain. Dealing with them in BSL-4 is potentially deadly.

        Stupidity finds a way. That's why designs must be as foolproof as possible.

    • "28 Days Later"

      Kids [wikipedia.org]... Always with the zombies

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What I'm concerned about is a bunch of militant "animal rights" nitwits getting in and "liberating" diseased animals, causing all kinds of hell.

      The University that I attended had a large agriculture department. They had a bunch of caged chickens. Healthy but caged. Activists freed them and the chickens soon started to die. Apparently living in cages with wire bottoms suspended a few feet off the ground did not prepare their immune systems for what waited on the ground below. They all got sick and most died.

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      I'm not worried about some virus spontaneously escaping into the wild. What I'm concerned about is a bunch of militant "animal rights" nitwits getting in and "liberating" diseased animals, causing all kinds of hell.

      "Free the animals, man!"

      Hell is a liberal animal.

    • by AK Marc (707885)

      I'm not worried about some virus spontaneously escaping into the wild.

      You should be, it's happened before. The most likeliest explanation for lyme disease is accidental release from Plum Island, carried away on ticks by migrating deer.

      • by Americano (920576)

        And were these magical, space-time traveling deer, as well? Able to go back hundreds of years in time, and reappear on an island off the coast of Scotland [wikipedia.org]?

        Perhaps the first detailed description of what is now known as Lyme disease appeared in the writings of Reverend Dr John Walker after a visit to the Island of Jura (Deer Island) off the west coast of Scotland in 1764. He gives a good description both of the symptoms of Lyme disease (with "exquisite pain [in] the interior parts of the limbs") and of the

    • Yeah, the zombie strawmen will get us all! Run for the hills!
  • by lunatick (32698) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:24PM (#41998217) Homepage

    I know people that work on plum island. They say that the place will be open till at least 2021. The decision to move it was purely political. At the time the local governments did not want a level 4 facility on the island, Once it was announced that the research would be moved to Kansas they recanted. There has also been much discussion about the wisdom of moving it to the middle of tornado alley and cattle country. Terrorism has had little effect on the decision, an island makes it very easy to control who comes and goes as compared to a facility reachable by foot. It would not surprise me to see them upgrade Plum island and cancel the project in Kansas, on the other hand it is up to the usual political backroom deals.

    • by peragrin (659227) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:42PM (#41998301)

      um tornado alley is easily prepared for. Just build the actual labs underground.

      just like Umbrella and look how well that turned out.

      oh

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @09:55PM (#41998369)

    Meanwhile, everyone's been ramming through a BSL-4 facility which will study live human diseases, right smack in the middle of Boston:

    http://www.wbur.org/2012/04/19/biolab-research-approval [wbur.org]

    They picked a poor minority neighborhood they and city officials could bully around, and despite public uproar, soon residents can look forward to being neighbors with Ebola.

    Apparently BU just couldn't be bothered to build it, say, out somewhere in the suburbs where there'd be some isolation from the general populace. Let's put it right smack in the middle of a city with a big public transit system and an international airport, just so our researchers won't have to hop in a car for a drive. BRILLIANT.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Man, good thing the CDC doesn't have a BSL4 lab in Atlanta, where they're headquartered. Oh, wait.

  • There is no place more isolated than the arctic. We have had bases there in the past, one even had a sub reactor to power it. Considering the fact that the environment is very much not in tune with the needs of any escaped pathogens I would say that it is just about the best choice. It would be hard to access and harder to enter. Get down under the rock and you are safe and contained with no vectors of escape of the bugs. It is a far better choice than the bread basket of the USA and allot of the world
    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      There is no place more isolated than the arctic. We have had bases there in the past, one even had a sub reactor to power it. Considering the fact that the environment is very much not in tune with the needs of any escaped pathogens I would say that it is just about the best choice. It would be hard to access and harder to enter. Get down under the rock and you are safe and contained with no vectors of escape of the bugs. It is a far better choice than the bread basket of the USA and allot of the world.

      Mike

      Thule?

  • For the record, there's a massive human disease lab located right in the middle of tornado alley. Oklahoma if I'm not mistaken.
    By the way, it's more fun if you read the article title as High Security Animal, Disease Lab Faces Uncertain Future.
    Gotta watch out for those high security animals, lol.
  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Friday November 16, 2012 @07:34AM (#42000275)
    This nearly literal pork-barrel facility (which is already built, BTW) is about a quarter mile up the street of the main campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. It is however, within eyesight of the a) football stadium, b) basketball coliseum, and c) student recreational center. Bonus: just to the west of all of that is the only hospital in the city. Not that animal diseases *ever* jump to humans...

    This was all mainly due to one of the worst US Senators in the modern age: Pat Roberts. His other claim to fame was putting off the investigations of the Iraq invasion lies until after the elections to 'take politics out of it'. After the election, he then claimed there was no point in investigating the lies as the past is the past, spilt milk, etc. Scumbag.
  • I think it is a stupid idea to place this where there will be lots of damage when things get out. And they will get out. Just like it is impossible to have code with zero bugs, it is impossible there will be no mistakes.

    Does anyone else remember this report about the air flow being redirected from inside the lab to the hallway outside where people don't wear protective gear? Bad Air Vents [preppercentral.com]

    In February, air from inside a potentially contaminated lab briefly blew outward into a “clean” corridor where a group of visitors weren’t wearing any protective gear which raised concern about exposure risks, according to e-mails reporting and discussing what happened. Research animals in the lab had not yet been infected at the time of the incident, the records say.

  • High Security Animal Disease Lab Faces Uncertain Future

    Thanks to quantum mechanics, don't we all?

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