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Biotech Security Science

DHS Pathogen Lab To Be Built In "Tornado Alley" 275

Posted by kdawson
from the don't-think-we're-in-kansas-anymore dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Washington Post reports that Department of Homeland Security is relying on a rushed, flawed study to justify its decision to locate the $700 million National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility for highly infectious pathogens in a tornado-prone section of Kansas. A GAO report says that it is not 'scientifically defensible' to conclude that lab can safely handle dangerous animal diseases in Kansas. Such research has been conducted up to now on a remote island on the northern tip of Long Island, NY. 'Drawing conclusions about relocating research with highly infectious exotic animal pathogens from questionable methodology could result in regrettable consequences,' the GAO warned in its draft report. Critics of moving the operation to the mainland argue that a release could lead to widespread contamination that could kill livestock, devastate a farm economy, and endanger humans. Along with the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease, NBAF researchers plan to study African swine fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, and other viruses in the Biosafety Level (BSL) 3 and BSL-4 livestock laboratory capable of developing countermeasures for foreign animal diseases. According to the article, DHS lobbied a Congressional committee to try and convince them that the GAO report was flawed, and to head off any hearings on the controversy. Despite this, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee plans to hold a hearing Thursday on the risk analysis."
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DHS Pathogen Lab To Be Built In "Tornado Alley"

Comments Filter:
  • Two Words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Monday July 27, 2009 @07:36PM (#28845331) Journal
    Andromeda Strain []
  • Can't Believe It! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amiga3D (567632) on Monday July 27, 2009 @07:47PM (#28845435)

    Congress is actually going to practice a little due diligence. How nice if they always did this.

  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir_Lewk (967686) <> on Monday July 27, 2009 @07:48PM (#28845451)

    Let's put the level 5 infectious disease lab right smack in the dead center middle of the continent!

    Nah, lets put it in a far more geographically stable area like California, or a more meteorologically stable area like Florida!

    Playing devil's advocate here, clearly this isn't the best location for such a facility but I don't think "being in the middle of the continent" has anything to do with that.

  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Artifakt (700173) on Monday July 27, 2009 @07:58PM (#28845547)

    The way you tried to turn this into a Dems bad/ Reps good issue is incredibly boneheaded. When some nasty pathogen gets loose, I plan to blame you personally because by subverting this argument to your pathetic politics you have undercut all rational discussion that might have prevented the apocalypse. The deaths of 99% of the human race will be personally on your head, and you will be the most thoroughly damned person ever to live. The survivors will eventually make a movie, where Snake Pliskin and a time traveling robot simultaneously hunt you down, join forces in the end, attach chains to opposite sides of your head, and rip your brain in half to the cheers of the entire surviving population. You will be played by John Warner in a fat suit, and he will set the scene by portraying you eating Dalmatian puppies.

  • by Tanman (90298) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:01PM (#28845563)

    It's the fact that they're moving it at all. This stuff is currently secure. It's locked up in a building that is supposed to be able to handle a dropped vial or something. It seems to my admittedly non-biotech-schooled mind that moving the stuff for a week is far more dangerous and has a much higher risk factor than letting it sit in the same place for 50 years.

  • Im not exactly.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:03PM (#28845605)
    I'm not exactly sure what the big deal is. Yes, tornados do happen, however -every- place has its risks. Any place located on any cost has the possibility of hurricanes, California has a lot of earthquakes, etc. And honestly the chances of a tornado hitting that exact same place and causing any sort of major damage is slim.
  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by snarkasaurus (627205) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:08PM (#28845645)

    Let me count the ways its a bad idea.

    1. All samples have to come from "someplace else" to the middle of the continental USA, where everybody lives. Plane crash? Car crash? Train derailment? Stupid screw up (oh that could never happen, right?) Your bug is loose in frickin' Kansas. The middle of the continent. Perfect set up for it to spread.
    2. Any agriculture bug you're testing? You're surrounded by... agriculture! Better hope you don't have a test tube break.
    3. People live right outside. See #2.
    4. How many super duper Level 5 trained people want to move to Cow's Butt, Kansas?
    5. Almost forgot, tornadoes.

    I'm not even trained in this specialty, I came up with that off the top of my head. The little island off the NY coast is a -good- place. A better place would be an island off the coast of Alaska, or in the middle of the Pacific.

    But hey, I'm "flamebait" for suggesting that this kind of stunning stupidity is BUSINESS AS USUAL for the f-ing MUTANTS who run the US government. Fire them all.

  • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:12PM (#28845677)

    Yeah, let's put the lab in Antarctica! It'll be totally safe there! Nobody would get within a thousand miles of the facility. Well, except for the all the cross-country plane trips to bring newly discovered strains from the midwest. But hey, jets are the safest form of travel, right?

  • by jpstanle (1604059) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:14PM (#28845685)
    I agree. After all, the CDC is headquartered about five miles from downtown Atlanta. Not in the middle of tornado alley, but the area is not impervious to severe weather. And the CDC is home to some really nasty pathogens like smallpox and Ebola. So long as the building is sufficiently hardened, I don't see the problem. We can build containment buildings for nuclear facilities that can withstand direct impacts by commercial jets; surely this proposed facility can be hardened to mitigate the risk presented by weather in the area. Just don't put the pathogen labs in mobile homes, and we should probably be ok.
  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:16PM (#28845703)

    I'm not even trained

    Clearly. FYI, but not everybody lives in the middle of the continent. The vast majority of the population lives on the two coasts, not in the middle. Kansas specifically has a relatively sparse population. A better location would be somewhere in North Dakota, where you've got the smallest population density in the continental US and the cold would also help alleviate any spread.

    The little island off the NY coast is a -good- place.

    Maybe so, if you ignore the fact that it's next door to the largest population center in North America.

    But hey, I'm "flamebait" for suggesting that this kind of stunning stupidity is BUSINESS AS USUAL

    No, you're flamebait for suggesting that any single political party, and all of its constituents, is to blame for the general stupidity coming out of the government. Not to mention that you assume the constituents of any party actually want to see stupidity from the government. That's why you're flamebait.

  • by shipbrick (929823) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:28PM (#28845819)
    You're joking at the end there, but that has at least some degree a truth to it. As a molecular biologist, I have a very negative connotation of Kansas due to their intelligent design/evolution fiasco. And as such, I would never consider moving and raising children there. I'm sure I'm an over-reactor, but I'd bet some other scientists feel the same way too.
  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by snarkasaurus (627205) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:32PM (#28845865)

    Actually I suggested that Democrats are the party of more government, which I take from this debacle to be a bad thing. Only government lobbying and wheeling/dealing can create situations this infernally stupid.

    If you RTFA you'll discover that the governor of Kansas is indeed a Democrat, but the two Senators pushing the thing are REPUBLICANS, which only goes to show that the answer is not having the "right" party in power. The only solution is to have -less- government, with less money to create dangerous situations like this.

    But don't feel too bad. The Canadian super duper bug lab is in Winnipeg. That's a city pretty much in the middle of the country. Government funded assholery is international.

  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh (216268) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:34PM (#28845891)

    Long Island isn't known for regularly-occurring natural disasters. Kansas is.

    However, your suggestion of North Dakota is a very good one. It's even more sparsely-populated than Kansas, and there's never any natural disasters there, unless you count -40 temperatures (which as you point out are a good thing for this application).

  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:1, Insightful)

    by snarkasaurus (627205) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:36PM (#28845909)

    Shazam! The governor of Kansas is ...[drum roll]... a DEMOCRAT! And has indeed been lobbying for this. Sadly the two senators for Kansas who have also been lobbying are REPUBLICANS, which gets back to my less government is better government theme. Two parties, both populated by idiots. Awesome!

    Snake Pliskin says hi, btw.

  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh (216268) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:45PM (#28845983)

    4. That's more of a HR issue than anything else. My guess is it wouldn't be that big of an issue. How many super duper Level 5 trained people want to move out to some little island in the middle of the fucking Pacific ocean?

    If it's a nice island, I imagine you'll have a much easier time recruiting great candidates to there rather than Kansas. I, for one, would be happy to live on a nice tropical Pacific island as long as there's at least a town there, and good internet access. But there's no way you'll ever get me to move to Kansas.

    However, it did occur to me that they have hurricanes in the Pacific, so wouldn't that be a danger to putting a research station like this on someplace like Guam?

  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Artifakt (700173) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:55PM (#28846049)

    I bet you more will get done about this by people who first look to see who endorses it than who worry first about what party they associate with. Get the names of people involved. Don't even start off by describing them as 'bureaucratic' until you know a few job titles and such. See if any of them are scientists, MD's, representitives. Senators, business leaders, or lobbyists, find out who is on a federal public payroll, who is state funded, and who is on a private one, and then, if it still looks important, yes by then you might want to check party affiliations. But all rushing that part does is alienates some people who might give a damn otherwise.

    Oh, and Snake probably won't be played by Kurt Russell if 99% of everybody dies first. Ahnald will naturally survive to play the terminator one last time - he said he'd be back after all. What, nobody argued with John Warner living through the global pandemic from Hell? What's with you people?

  • Re:OMFG!!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MaskedSlacker (911878) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:56PM (#28846057)

    After the shitfest that was The Day After Tomorrow (same director), I expect 2012 to be equally stupid.

  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cenc (1310167) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:06PM (#28846163) Homepage

    6. Much of the population does not believe in Evolution.

    What a great place to do evolution dependent research.

    Wait a second. If they don't believe in Evolution, then it none of it is really dangerous.

  • Re:Two Words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by (1195047) <philip.paradis@palegray . n et> on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:12PM (#28846203) Homepage Journal
    Here's a good question: why wouldn't labs like this be built underground as a standard practice, along with a full range of additional isolation mechanisms?
  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:41PM (#28846425) Homepage

    How is it assholery?

    The government has to choose between placing the lab in the geographic center (Kansas) or the population center (coasts) of the US. Both are bad for different reasons.

    If remoteness is what you want, we could build it in Alaska, but that would generate all sorts of complaints about the region's geographical stability, cost, and political favoritism. You also have the issue of transportation.

    Truth be told, modern construction techniques have made it perfectly safe to place buildings in tornado and earthquake-prone zones. Transport also isn't much of an issue, given that we've figured out how to transport nuclear waste in containers that are designed to withstand pretty much anything []. (Hazardous materials could and should be stored on-site in similarly robust containers)

    Honestly, this sounds like a story cooked up to increase ratings, and get people riled up.

  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by osu-neko (2604) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:02PM (#28846621)

    Actually I suggested that Democrats are the party of more government...

    This is often claimed, but I have never, ever observed this to be the case. Aside from a short period of small examples early in the Clinton administration, I've never observed either party make any significant effort to shrink government. Ever since Ford (the first president I remember), every party, every administration, and every congress has been the party, administration, and congress of more government. Lip-service aside, no one is committed to anything else. You can gauge someone's gullibility by the degree to which they believe one party the other favors smaller government, rather than just larger or smaller roles in various areas (each favors an expanded role in some areas and a smaller role in others).

  • Re:Two Words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by b1t r0t (216468) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:13PM (#28846721)

    True, putting the lab underground should prevent any problems.

    Yes, especially in Missouri. []

  • Re:"Hey, I know!" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Miseph (979059) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:19PM (#28846763) Journal

    "If you RTFA you'll discover that the governor of Kansas is indeed a Democrat, but the two Senators pushing the thing are REPUBLICANS, which only goes to show that the answer is not having the "right" party in power. The only solution is to have -less- government, with less money to create dangerous situations like this."

    Flaw: the whole thing is about a research facility designed to mitigate the risks of dangerous and extremely damaging diseases, something that's actually a good idea to have. this isn't an issue of government having too much money with which to do stupid things, or even an issue of having too much government, it;s an issue of government doing things for stupid, greedy reasons. In this case, the reason is almost certainly that Kansas wants more Federal research money to infuse the local economy (researchers need food, water, homes, clothes, cars, and all manner of other goods, plus they have to pay taxes), and given the topic at hand that is a stupid, greedy (who wants to bet me that either Senator has no ties to local construction contractors capable of taking on the government contracts this would immediately lead to? I'll just take your money now) reason.

    It's not a matter of more government or less, it's a matter of better. For all that they claim to intend otherwise, the last 3 Republican presidents and have acted to increase the size and scope of government more than almost any other administrations in American history, and at least in my opinion they've done a tremendously shitty job of it. The Republicans believe that government is flawed, ineffective, intrusive and harmful to all aspects of our nation, and if you elect them, by God they will prove it. The Democrats may not do much better, but at least they don't bullshit you about trying to decrease the reach of government.

  • by corbettw (214229) <[corbettw] [at] []> on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:19PM (#28847185) Journal
    But don't worry, it'll be different with health care. Promise.

People will buy anything that's one to a customer.