Archive for Friday, June 15, 2012

Report doubts low-risk view of Kansas biohazard lab

June 15, 2012


— (AP) The federal government still underestimates the risk of a planned biosecurity lab in Kansas releasing a dangerous animal disease, and an assessment earlier this year suggesting minimal danger is seriously flawed, an independent report said Friday.

The report from the National Research Council marked the second time in two years that the advisory group has questioned the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's evaluation of the safety of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan. The $1.14 billion lab would replace an aging lab on Plum Island, N.Y., and research contagious pathogens that could threaten the nation's food supply.

In the new report, the group found that the department's assessment earlier this year overestimated the danger posed by tornadoes and earthquakes but underestimated the potential risks of a disease being released by human error. The group said the DHS sometimes relied on "questionable and inappropriate assumptions" in its evaluation.

"Because a pathogen release from the NBAF could have devastating agricultural, economic, and public health consequences, a risk assessment that reaches inappropriate conclusions could have substantial repercussions," Gregory Baecher, a University of Maryland engineering professor and chairman of the report-compiling committee, said in a statement.

Federal and Kansas officials maintain the lab, located near Kansas State University, will pose no real threat to people or animals in the area. Even with the latest National Research Council report, U.S. senators from Kansas and Missouri pressed U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to release $90 million in federal funds to continue work at the site.

Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas, both Republicans, and Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively, said the facility will be "the safest laboratory built of its kind to date." Project supporters had hoped it would be operating by 2018.

"The risk of not moving forward with NBAF is a risk the American people should not have to accept," they wrote in a letter to Napolitano that was also released Friday. "Academic and theoretical discussions of potential and unknown risks are important but should not hinder your department from taking action to address bio and agro-defense at the national level with NBAF."

The council is an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, a private nonprofit group that advises the federal government. In 2010, based on Homeland Security's own data, the council determined there was a 70 percent chance of an accidental release of foot-and-mouth or another dangerous disease leading to an outbreak outside the lab during the facility's 50-year lifespan.

Then, a Department of Homeland Security assessment in March — based on revised designs — said the risk was about one-tenth of 1 percent. The evaluation buoyed Kansas officials, who have worried about resistance in Congress to continued funding for the project. They see the lab, with several hundred high-paying jobs, as an engine of economic growth and the anchor for an emerging biosciences industry.

In Friday's congressionally mandated report, the National Research Council called the March assessment "technically inadequate in critical respects." For example, it said a conclusion that the risk of human error for releasing a disease was 1-in-200 or lower for highly skilled workers "seems to have been arbitrarily selected and indiscriminately applied."

However, the council said the department's assessment in March was superior to the one in 2010, which prompted the first critical council report.

U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, a New York Democrat whose Long Island district includes Plum Island, said the latest report underscores the concerns of him and others about the planned lab's safety.

"The report bolsters my case that not one more taxpayer dollar should be appropriated to build this billion-dollar boondoggle," Bishop said in a statement.

The Kansas and Missouri senators said in their letter to Napolitano that the lab is a "critical asset for our country" and delaying work on it will increase costs.

"More importantly, delays result in an increased risk on our nation's security," they wrote.

— Associated Press Writer Frank Eltman, in Garden City, N.Y., also contributed to this report.


JackMcKee 5 years, 6 months ago

Putting a biohazard in the middle of tornado alley near an earthquake fault in the middle of religious nutso land is a bad idea? Nobody thought of these things before? Really?

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 6 months ago

I never have liked the idea of this lab being anywhere close to people. If it needs to be close to people, why not build it next to Gitmo?

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 6 months ago

While there is a risk having NBAF in Manhattan, the risk is being overblown and inflated.

Having the lab in Kansas would bring hundreds of good jobs and billions of dollars into the Kansas economy.

It is worth the risk.

A bigger danger is that the federal government is creating jobs in Kansas. This keeps right wing libertarian ideologues up at night with the night terrors.

Shane Garrett 5 years, 6 months ago

I went to the National Academics web site.. and looked at all the Bio-Defense risk assessment members. It must be a difficult task to design and build something that a peer review group, with all those letters behind their names, would feel comfortable signing off on as secure. But, I say roll the dice, no one lives forever.

Write2Know 5 years, 6 months ago

Just have the Umbrella Corporation build the lab underground. Everything will be fine.

Patricia Davis 5 years, 6 months ago

Jack is right about the bad weather/geographic sampler Kansas presents. Have a biohazard problem? Let's contaminate the nation's bread basket and the beef supply to say nothing of contaminating an aquifer that supports a huge portion of the drought-prone midwest. It is not work the risk. Keep this mess at Plum Island.

Besides why reward Brownie with Kansas jobs brownie points when he has been so contemptuous of Obama and government jobs? And really, what kind of brilliant scientists would want their children educated in this Brownback wasteland and have to listen to the party line of there is no global warming and evolution is just one theory.

blindrabbit 5 years, 6 months ago

The real advantage of originally placing the lab at Plum Island reveals that the thinkers at that time displayed much more common sense than is being used to site the new lab in Kansas.

Firstly, the prevailing wind at Plum is offshore; and since the island is just about as far east as you can get on the East Coast any airborne release will drift out over open ocean and not over 1,500 miles of populated US mainland. Just think why Japan located it's nuclear power plants on it's East Coast; most of the radioactive release following the earthquake/tsunami drifted out over the open Pacific.

Secondly, Plum Island is located far away from an area that would suffer greatly if a release of animal diseases were to be released. Why place a livestock disease testing facility right in the middle of livestock (cattle) production area. The release of hoof and mouth (like diseases) in Kansas would be devastating to cattle not to mention impact on human health. Several years ago a few contaminated cattle in Great Britian caused the cattle industry to almost be wiped out. Many thousands of cattle needed to be destroyed and the industry has been slow to recover.

Thirdly, at Plum Island most of the most dangerous work is carried out right in the high security controlled area. Access to and from the facility is highly regulated and the likelihood of terrorist activity is minimal because of it's remote location. The proposed location in Manhattan is very close to a populated city and is surrounded by private property where a terrorist could gain close access to the facility site. Also, much of the work at the proposed Kansas facilty is to be carried out by a variety of "subcontractors" located removed from the main lab. Does this mean movement to and from the main site will be over public roads/railroads with minimal control and great exposure potential. Just think of some nut bent on causing a release, how easy this might be with such an "open, loose" operating fashion.

Fourthly, placing the facitiy in an active tornado zone does not make sense. To protect from a potential tornado impact, much of the lab would need to be in highly fortified buildings (maybe underground); what about additional cost to achieve this security. Other natural impacts need to be considered as well including flooding, winter weather conditions and earthquake possibilities.

Hopefully, all of these potential impacts have been adequately studied and considered; my guess is that they have not, and the release of the recent independent report on site location seems to give evidence that this is the case.

Shane Garrett 5 years, 6 months ago

If you actually would read the Risk Analysis done by the National advisory board you would realize just how silly your numbered arguments are viewed by your peers.

Shane Garrett 5 years, 6 months ago

If everyone would stop and think about what is already going on at KSU research facilities then perhaps a more secure building would be the ideal situation for current employees. Plus working for NBAF would put them at a higher pay grade. You think that a locked door and out dated fume hoods with no filters are a current good thing????

ljwhirled 5 years, 6 months ago

The down side is if there is an F5, like there was last year in Joplin, thousands of Kansas farmers could lose their livelyhood.

A few science research jobs aren't worth the risk of damaging the states primary industry.

Putting an agricultural disease research facility in Manhattan, Kansas is like putting an Ebola research facility in Manhattan, New York.

Shane Garrett 5 years, 6 months ago

3.The committee will examine alternative approaches to providing the needed infrastructure, focusing on three options: o Building NBAF as currently designed; o Building a scaled-back version of NBAF (to be described by NRC/NAS); o Maintaining current capabilities at PIADC while leveraging BSL-4 laboratory capacity (for livestock) through foreign laboratories. In evaluating alternatives, the committee will examine factors such as capacity and capabilities, advantages and liabilities, relative costs, and other considerations in relation to the mission needs of DHS and USDA (Agricultural Research Service and Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service) to counter the known and emerging threats from bioterrorism, foreign animal diseases and zoonotic diseases. The committee’s report will identify pros and cons, discuss potential gaps, and provide consensus advice on how the laboratory infrastructure needed to address emerging foreign animal and zoonotic disease threats could be assembled. The committee’s examination will address the capability needed to counter the identified threat, relative to the three options. The committee will not consider specific site locations as part of this examination. The project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The project start date is March 16, 2012. A report is expected to be issued by June 30, 2012.

I really do not see any mention of weather conditions in the land of OZ or the Dorothy syndrome of its people.

blindrabbit 5 years, 6 months ago

Wally: In addressing "my numbered arguments" you indicte "my peers", actually your defense of my comments is exactly what "your peers" have been parroting, because they have a "dog in this fight". I have "no horse in this race" other than common sense. You can belittle my comments and those of others, but to not realistically consider these issues, it is like a ostrich with his head in the sand.

Anyway, the major thrust for this move is economics, not safety or need; Robert's trying to save his reputation by doing something noteworthy. Promoters talk about jobs and lost economy to Kansas, should be thinking more open-mindedly. If Kansas was so concerned about jobs, why did Republicans (Koch's et al) let Boeing get away.

Joe Blackford II 5 years, 6 months ago

ALL 300 of the NBAF employees will be "dual use researchers" for 50 years. Look it up:

"The Dual Use Research Program is a focal point for the development of policies addressing life sciences research that yield information or technologies with the potential to be misused to threaten public health or national security."

Here's a sample of the deceptions played on Kansans by KSU & its spokespeople:


Published in the August 27, 2007 edition of the Manhattan Mercury.

The FBI was intensely investigating the Jaax' employee, Dr. Bruce Ivins. Ivins had worked with Dr. N. Jaax on Anthrax research.

Google: "NBAF Franz Ivins" to connect additional dots.

The NBAF will NOT employ current Kansans to any large extent. It is more likely that Midwest Research Institute, KC, MO, will operate the lab as a GOCO (Govt Owned, Contractor Operated) as it does a lab for U S A M R I I D. Dr. Franz is VP of MRIGlobal & runs that lab in MD.

USAMRIID was rebuilt to be more "secure." Those contractors had to have Top Secret security clearances. The contractors who actually build the NBAF will likely be the same "secure" contractors. The actual construction $ to remain in KS will be minimal (daily expenses of workers; earthwork).

Current plans call for NBAF to withstand possibly an EF-2. There have been several EF-5s in Kansas in recent years. Was it an EF-4 that hit KSU in 2008?

dinglesmith 5 years, 6 months ago

The New York congressional delegation comes out against moving Plumb Island while the Kansas delegation comes out in favor. Yawn. The NRC - among the most respected research organizations in the world - says the facility will not be safe. The federal government - among the least respected research organizations in the world - says the facility will be safe. Is it really so difficult to figure out who to listen to? Would our congressional delegation believe this facility is so critical to national defense if it were being built in Nebraska or Texas?

BringBackMark 5 years, 6 months ago

I'm sure Pat Roberts has the brain power to assess risk......remember the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq......a trillion or so ago?

blindrabbit 5 years, 6 months ago

I'll speculate, this some kind of give and take by some influencial Kansans! Koch's say (we would sure like to get rid of Boeing in Wichita, they pay too high of salaries and outshine us down here), in big W. Robert's says, ( I can help make this happen, but I need some incentives to do so). (Since I'm a good K-State man, how bout you Koch's, throw in the NBAF out here in Manhattan). Robert's says (since I screwed up the Senate hearings on the 2 wars, I need something to resurrect my poor image). Tit for tat!

Kirk Larson 5 years, 6 months ago

The danger is not so much tornadoes, but that some technician will walk out the door with hoof & mouth on his/her shoes. And with the place being staffed by people whose biology education might be kind of shaky, what with another evolution kerfluffle in the works, the threat is real.

tomatogrower 5 years, 6 months ago

Having the jobs would be great, but a facility like this needs to stay on an island where accidental infection might be contained. Much of the economy of Kansas revolves around agriculture. My family has not been in farming for one generation now, but we still talk about weather and what it's doing to crops, because we are Kansans and it's a large part of our lives. An accidental release of an infection could devastate Kansas, and those jobs the facility would create would mean nothing.

Just a side note - Does anyone else have spell check problems with "Kansans"? Isn't that the plural of Kansan?

Susan Lee 5 years, 6 months ago

Excellent and very valid points made here about the need to keep this lab out of Kansas. Oh how I wish the decision-makers had the intelligence to see this logic.

Something quite important has not been mentioned here yet: the lab will eventually study DEADLY HUMAN diseases such as ebola.

For you pro-lab people, do you really want that in your backyard???

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