Infectious Diseases Study Site Questioned

Washington Post:

Infectious Diseases Study Site Questioned

Tornado Alley May Not Be Safe, GAO Says

The Department of Homeland Security relied on a rushed, flawed study to justify its decision to locate a $700 million research facility for highly infectious pathogens in a tornado-prone section of Kansas, according to a government report.

The department’s analysis was not “scientifically defensible” in concluding that it could safely handle dangerous animal diseases in Kansas – or any other location on the U.S. mainland, according to a Government Accountability Office draft report obtained by The Washington Post. The GAO said DHS greatly underestimated the chance of accidental release and major contamination from such research, which has been conducted only on a remote island off the United States.

DHS staff members tried quietly last week to fend off a public airing of the facility’s risks, agency correspondence shows. Department officials met privately with staff members of a congressional oversight subcommittee to try to convince them that the GAO report was unfair, and to urge them to forgo or postpone a hearing. But the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), decided otherwise. It plans to hold a hearing Thursday on the risk analysis, according to two sources briefed on the plans.

I dunno, maybe they could build a really big, bio-secure storm cellar.

I don’t doubt that there is a lot of political lobbying for this prime piece of government pork. I think the Washington Post article contains a bit of that lobbying.

Currently, hoof and mouth and other veterinary diseases are studied at Plum Island, which as WaPo mentioned, is off the tip of Long Island, NY. Locals there want the facility shut down and are opposed to the expanded research facility which Kansas seems to want.

Now, hoof and mouth is extremely contagious and lethal to livestock. That is the rationale for why it has only been studied on an island. An outbreak in the US, given its practice of large scale feedlots, would be a food supply disaster. We haven’t had an epidemic of the disease since 1929.

But… the research would be conducted at a state of the art Bio-Safety Level 4 facility. BSL-4 facilities have multiple layers of disinfection and are buildings built inside other buildings. They are also are built to withstand hurricanes… heck, the Shopes Laboratory, which works with Ebola, is in Galveston, TX !.
cnn.com/2008/US/weather/09/12/ike.biological.agents/

I haven’t read the GAO report, but I don’t think the “tornado alley” argument is very strong. On the other hand, hoof and mouth isn’t something to mess with, so I understand the anxiety

The current facility on Plum Island is hardly remote.

Not that I favor the placement of the facility at Kansas State University - the govenor (now secretary of HHS) thought it was great idea to have thousands of toxins studied in the middle of feedlots, dairy herds and other livestock but deemed the CO2 that would be released from a power plant too dangerous for the state.

I doubt the new facility will be built in the next four years, New York wants to keep it and I can’t image a democrat congress and president taking a billion dollar facility from a blue state and giving it to a red state.

The facility will have little to fear from tornados - the construction process requires a concrete shelter designed similar to a bomb proof building. The nuclear reactor on K-State campus is of similar design requirements took a direct hit from a tornado a year ago and suffered no damage (the outer building was damaged but the inner shell was not). The greater fear is human error will result in a release such as the ones that happened at Plum Island in 1978 and 2004.

it seems pretty simple actually. many kansans build their own underground shelters to run to when there is a tornado warning.

so i am sure the government could build an underground research facility that they could occupy year round and they could build it according to specifications required for this type of research facility. that way, they would not have to worry about weather conditions.
and i don’t think there are many earthquakes in that area.

as long as they aren’t in a flood zone, i can’t think of any other natural disaster that would cause this location to be unqualified.

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