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Biotech Security Science

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

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"

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  • OMFG!!!! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @07:44PM (#28845401)

    This is the plot to "Devil Winds" the all-time worst disaster films! [] []

  • by ccbailey ( 859060 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:01PM (#28845569) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I am a veterinarian Currently this sort of research is done on Plum Island ( which is conveniently separated from everything else by a nice long bridge. Very little of the disease work that goes on there has zoonotic potential, that is potential to infect humans, and those diseases that do would require transmission via arthropod vectors that hopefully don't live in New York. The worry with putting this kind of facility in Kansas is for diseases like foot and mouth disease (FMD), which cause epidemics in livestock but are harmless to people. Foot and mouth can be easily transmitted on objects and through aerosol. Outbreaks in FMD-free countries take months and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up before you can convince anyone to buy your exports again. I think the idea is that there aren't too many cows on Long Island but a hell of a lot more of them in Kansas.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:01PM (#28845571)

    Is called Plum Island [].

    Other than living relatively close to it i see no problem with just leaving it there. The only way to get to it is from a secure ferry and in it's 50+ years I haven't heard of one incident.

  • by Jizzbug ( 101250 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:19PM (#28845731)

    MRI (Midwest Research Institute) is already in tornado alley at Kansas City, Missouri, just off the UMKC campus. MRI holds the largest archive of communicable pathogens in the world, down the road from the largest public-private science and technology library in the world (Linda Hall, from which library we faxed the University of Tehran [at DHS' approval] almost the entire bibliography of U.S. nuclear research a few years ago just before The Media(TM) started its 'Iran has nuclear tech' scare).

    It makes perfect sense that They(TM) would want this new lab to be near the older and larger lab.

  • by gardyloo ( 512791 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:39PM (#28845925)

    Well, except that it wasn't in Kansas, nor was it in a location especially noted for tornados, or earthquakes, or much of any recent climatic or geologic problems.

  • by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:00PM (#28846103) Homepage Journal

    we don't get hit with tornadoes all that often. They do happen, and small towns do get properly torn-up by them, but one of those only hits every few years. Most of our tornadoes touch down in uninhabited areas, because there's a /lot/ of space that's farm fields, pastures, or forested. Also, I'd much rather be here than where hurricanes or earthquakes or forest fires are apt to hit, because tornadoes by their nature affect only a small area.

    Taco, would you get around to firing kdawson already? His sensationalism was amusing during the election cycle, but it's getting really tiresome.

  • by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:58PM (#28846569) Homepage

    I've posted this elsewhere on this story, but it's worth pointing out that we've been transporting nuclear material by road for quite some time, and without major incident.

    Part of the reason behind this is that the containers used for shipping are deigned to withstand [] a collision from a fully-loaded high speed train.

    That sort of accident is extremely unlikely, given that trains are not permitted to run at high speeds through grade crossings, while commercial/hazmat truck drivers are required to make a full stop at such crossings. I'm having trouble finding any record of an at-grade high speed collision (the Acela once hit a car while traveling at 70mph, while France's TGV has been operating for 25+ years without a single fatal accident).

    Nevertheless, should extreme stupidity prevail, the container would still survive. It's hard to imagine an incident that would breach the container without also killing the pathogens stored inside.

  • Other bad places (Score:3, Informative)

    by ebonum ( 830686 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:17PM (#28846751)

    Oddly enough, we already have facilities in highly questionable locations. []

    Look for:
    "National Biocontainment Facility"
    "Shope Laboratory"

    These are Biosafety level 4 facilities in Galveston, Texas.

    They have hurricanes in Galveston... Big ones...

  • Not just trailers.. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @12:41AM (#28847711)

    Trust me, tornados can rip apart brick, and steel buildings just like a trailer home. I live in a town that has been hit multiple times. I also have searched for survivors while the rain and hail was still falling minutes after a tornado. I agree that with the right construction, buildings can survive, but it takes a lot more thought and better construction than the government would be willing to do. 2009 Lone Grove Oklahoma Tornado.

  • Re:Two Words (Score:3, Informative)

    by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice@gm a i l . com> on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @05:49AM (#28849307)
    Because underground structures are incredibly hard to get to in emergencies, something you do not want when dealing with these sort of things.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"