Archive for Friday, June 22, 2012

Move NBAF forward

Kansas leaders should continue to press their efforts to keep work on a new bio-defense lab moving forward.

June 22, 2012


Kansas worked hard to become the new home of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.

Now, Kansas must fight hard to keep NBAF.

The state’s congressional delegation, the governor and other state leaders led the effort to convince federal officials in Washington, D.C., that Kansas State University in Manhattan was the best location for the new NBAF laboratory to replace the aging facility on Plum Island, N.Y.

While other states competing for the project — Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas — might have had more political clout, Kansas was chosen as the site. The lab, initially expected to open by 2018, would create several hundred high-paying jobs, boost economic growth in the region and help anchor the state’s bioscience industry.

The $1.1 billion facility would research dangerous animal diseases that could threaten the nation’s food supply. Backers of the project say it is vital to national security, but critics are raising concerns about security and the possibility of an accidental release of diseases.

Last week, an independent report mandated by Congress and prepared by the National Research Council contended that a favorable Homeland Security assessment in March was flawed and that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security still doesn’t have a good assessment of how it could operate the facility safely. The report said that DHS had overestimated the danger posed by tornadoes and earthquakes but underestimated the risks of disease being released by human error. A spokeswoman for DHS noted, however, that the report called the new lab “a critical asset” and said its designs are sound.

Congress had set aside $90 million to build a new utility plant for the lab and continue site work in Manhattan but told Homeland Security it couldn’t spend the money until the National Research Council had finished its report. Although the report indicates that additional security work remains to be done, Kansas officials, with the support of some Missouri leaders, are pressing Homeland Security to release the $90 million and get the project started. Ron Trewyn, vice president of research at K-State, points out that the new lab will face rigorous, ongoing reviews by other federal agencies and further pre-construction safety assessments don’t serve much purpose. “It’s time to build the building,” he said. “It’s time to move forward.”

Safety and security are critical issues, but initial work on the NBAF project should be allowed to proceed. There is still time to finalize the necessary security plans for the project, but Kansas officials are right to press federal authorities to keep this project moving forward.


Ken Lassman 5 years, 10 months ago

I just reviewed the copy of the National Academy of Sciences report, available here for free:

and I gotta say that the issue sure looks like it would be worth looking at in some critical aspects before moving ahead, with all due respect for our upriver colleagues.

The editorial says that it's just a matter of beefing up security more, but it seems that there are some real issues to digest. Does the Kansas Livestock Association really understand that the state's herds would be liquidated and quarantined for extended periods for any outbreak that occurs? Seems to me that any shortcomings at NBAF would result in our livestock industry paying a very high price, with no guarantee that it would not come out of the producer's pockets.

blindrabbit 5 years, 10 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.

squawkhawk 5 years, 10 months ago

One of the biggest concerns about NBAF is accidental release of contaminants due to human error. Human error can happen anywhere, not just in the land of Ahhhhs.

P Allen Macfarlane 5 years, 10 months ago

You must be referring to the error Kansans made when they elected Brownback.

Patricia Davis 5 years, 10 months ago

Plum Island is a better choice. There is too much risk for the food supply and the aquifers. Plus there's that part of me that wants Obama to just say no to Brownback for anything.

Joe Blackford II 5 years, 10 months ago

"underestimated the risks of disease being released by human error," How about "human intentions?

I spoke before the National Research Council in March @ KSU. I told them I was there in error, as I had understood the topic was to be: "How to tell an NBAF researcher from a bio-terrorist."

The answer? You can't until a terrorist act has been committed.

I then asked how many of those present had worked at a Top Secret - Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility? My hand was one of the few raised in the room. KSU's Col (Ret) Jerry Jaax did Not raise his hand, as the U S Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases had been run at a Secret security level.

In 2001, the FBI began to look at the Institute's employees as the Anthrax Mailer(s). At least 2 scientists became the top suspect(s). The FBI named Dr. Bruce Ivins, an USAMRIID employee of 19 years, as the Anthrax Mailer following his suicide in 2008.

Suddenly, scientific research had to be evaluated for its potential as "dual use research," "life sciences research that yield information or technologies with the potential to be misused to threaten public health or national security."

IF the NBAF is built, perhaps deep underground to fend off EF-5 tornados; with seals on doors built to above-NASA standards; retina scanners to confirm employees' identities; in other words, the most expensive strategies known to DHS to protect the public and the agriculture of Kansas; it will still pose a threat beyond estimation =

300 employees X 50 years of research X probability any one NBAF employee will intentionally release a plague. It is that probability that no one, not DHS, certainly not KSU, wants to publicize.

Following the NRC comment session, I met & shook the hands of Col. Jaax & Juergen Richt*, Regents Distinguished Professor, who assured me he could not in good conscience ever do anything to harm farmers. Unfortunately, neither of them can vouch for each & every one of the researchers who would threaten Kansas with "dual use research" for generations to come.

*Regents Distinguished Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine Kansas Bioscience Authority Eminent Scholar Director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases

gizmo192 5 years, 10 months ago

It does not matter where it is built if a researcher intentionally does something!

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