National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility
- State officials lobby for NBAF in Manhattan presentation (07-31-08)
- Federal report: Manhattan still in running for Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (06-20-08)
- Moving virus research could be costly (06-21-08)
- NBAF plans criticized on Capitol Hill (05-23-08)
- Critics say Kansas would be dangerous place for animal-disease research facility (05-22-08)
- Biodefense facility decision to come this fall (04-26-08)
Topeka An opponent to bringing the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility to Kansas said Friday that the recent development in the anthrax case raises new concerns about the safety of federal biodefense labs.
"When you deal with humans, stuff happens," said Sandy Cravens, of Manhattan.
Federal prosecutors have said they were preparing an indictment against government scientist Bruce E. Ivins alleging he mailed anthrax-laced letters in 2001 that killed five people.
Ivins, who committed suicide this week, had been working on anthrax research at a federal lab at Fort Detrick, Md. Prosecutors say Ivins may have sent the letters as a way to test a vaccine for anthrax.
Cravens was among a small number of people who earlier this week registered their opposition to a proposal to build NBAF at Kansas State University.
NBAF would be a Biosafety-4 lab, which is the highest level of security and the same level as the Fort Detrick lab.
Of those who spoke against NBAF, many said they feared a deadly pathogen being studied at the lab could escape either by accident or through an attack.
The anthrax allegations bolster their claims even further, Cravens said. "I don't want to say government is sometimes inefficient, or doesn't work right, but what if someone gets mad at somebody?" she said.
But Jerry Jaax, associate vice president for research compliance at K-State, said that despite the developments in the anthrax case, NBAF should proceed as planned.
"It's disturbing," he said, concerning the allegations against Ivins. "But that doesn't mean we fold up our shop and say we can't do this kind of work."
The proposed NBAF would focus on diseases that could affect the nation's food supply and pose a health threat to humans. These include foot-and-mouth disease, classical swine fever, African swine fever, Rift Valley fever, Nipah virus, Hendra virus and others.
He said NBAF, which would be under the Department of Homeland Security, would not be used for anthrax research because that research is conducted by the Department of Defense.
Jaax, who served at the Fort Detrick lab as the chief of the veterinary medicine division, said he knew Ivins as a "thoughtful and sensitive person."
He said he didn't want to jump to conclusions about whether Ivins was guilty before he learned more about the government's case.
But, he said, if the allegations were true, that would increase concerns about safety at the federal labs.
"If it turns out that he was the guy, then that is a discussion that people are going to have," he said. "That's a legitimate question; you can't deny that that is a concern."
But, he said, it shouldn't stop NBAF.
"The bottom line is that the alternative of not doing this kind of work is too hard to contemplate," he said. Supporters of NBAF say it could be needed in the event that terrorists tried to poison the nation's food supply.