Archive for Friday, March 2, 2012

Homeland Security: Design changes at NBAF substantially reduce potential risks

March 2, 2012, 9:35 a.m. Updated March 2, 2012, 1:46 p.m.


Changes in the design for a proposed federal animal disease research lab in Kansas have sharply reduced the risk of an accidental release of deadly pathogens, according to a new assessment released Friday.

The Department of Homeland Security assessment updates a report issued in 2010. The new document puts the risk of an accidental release, including in the event of an earthquake or tornado, at one-tenth of 1 percent, down from the previous calculation of a 70 percent chance of release.

"While the earlier design far exceeded tornado shelter standards, moving up to nuclear regulatory standards for structural integrity should provide an increased comfort level," said Ron Trewyn, Kansas State University's vice president research.

Homeland Security plans to build the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan near Kansas State. The assessment calculated the risk to the human population living near the lab, as well as the large number of livestock in the region.

DHS selected the Kansas site for a $650 million new facility to replace an aging lab at Plum Island, N.Y. The lab is scheduled to be completed by 2018.

The report comes a few weeks after President Barack Obama's 2013 budget was released without mention of funding to begin construction this year. The budget recommendation requires DHS to reassess the project, its scope and alternatives. However, Gov. Sam Brownback says he was told by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano that the decision had nothing to do with the lab itself but money.

"Hopefully, we can get away from political arguments which have been driving things recently and get back fact-based reasoning," Trewyn said. "The risk for the country is not building NBAF. Foreign animal diseases are going to get here and the country isn't prepared. NBAF is a start and it's urgently needed."

The assessment must still be reviewed by a committee of the National Research Council, with those findings expected to be reported to Congress by summer. A committee that reviewed the 2010 report found shortcomings in the NBAF design, prompting changes in the engineering and Congress to mandate a further risk assessment.

The earlier review found there was a 70 percent chance of accidental release of hoof and mouth disease over the 50-year life of the lab. Because of concentrations of cattle herds in the region, the NRC said such a release could cause an economic impact of between $9 billion and $50 million.

DHS said that the new assessment satisfies Congressional requirement, adding the independent review used additional data and modeling methods to calculate the impact of an accidental disease release.

Tom Manney, a retired Kansas State professor with the group Biosecurity in the Heartland, said while the assessment can account for design changes made to guard against natural disasters, it can't mitigate human factors, such as accidental infection of a staff member or the intentional release of a pathogen.

"I can't imagine how they got numbers like that," Manney said. "I'm fairly confident that the kinds of risks that they are evaluating are not the total risks or most serious risk of release."

Kansas officials have already committed $105 million in bonding authority to assist with NBAF's construction, including building a utility plant for the lab. Brownback and others have said the state is looking at other alternatives for helping fund the project, should federal money dry up.

A site has been prepared for construction on the north side of the Kansas State campus. Sen. Pat Roberts said the assessment should be enough to allow DHS to release some $50 million in funds to begin construction.

"I am pleased by the updated assessment's confirmation of what we always knew: Manhattan is the safest and best place for this facility to be built," the Kansas Republican said. "The risk of outbreak should help allay concerns from any opposition, in the public or Congress."

Manney said he was pleased that Congress and the administration were taking a step back to look at the project's the escalating cost. The project initially was pegged at closer to $450 million, with some estimates suggesting the price could approach $1 billion before construction is complete.

"If it's going to cost that much more money, where will it come from?" he asked. "You either escalate the costs or cut corners."


blindrabbit 5 years, 11 months ago

Chance of release, down from 70% to less than 1/10 of 1%. Sounds like they got a sharp pencilled bean counter involved or some one got paid off. The real concern is not so much an accidental release of some biotoxin, but an intentional release by a employee. The anthrax realese in 2001 from Aberdeen was the result of Bruce Ivins (a disgruntled employee) who later committed suicide. The NBAF in Manhattan will be especially vulnerable, because of Midwest location and the fact that much of the work will be farmed out to contractors "off-site" from the secure area of the Laboratory proper.

Joe Blackford II 5 years, 11 months ago

" chances of an accidental leak were “less than 0.11 percent . . . " says Trewyn.

Where does Trewyn intend to live, 2018-2068? I live 1.6 miles, as the germs fly, North of the NBAF site (Kansa = "people of the south wind").

Why do all these "Pie in the Sky" press releases never mention the NBAF will study "emerging" zoonotic diseases (transmittable to humans) at a BSL-4 level (lethal, with no known treatment or vaccine)?

blindrabbit brings up the Anthrax Mailer, Dr. Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID. His intentional "leak" killed 5 people & put $6 billion into the bio-terrorism budget, according to his boss, Col/Dr David R. Franz, KSU / DHS / Midwest Research Institute (KC, MO) / Kansas Bioscience Authority.

I told the National Research Council team at KSU last month that I attended their meeting because I thought there would be a discussion of how to tell a bio-terrorist from a NBAF researcher. Seems there isn't any way to tell them apart, until After A Bio-terrorism Attack.

You Lawrencians do know the excess stormwater runoff from the NBAF will be pumped uphill to the North along Denison; East along Marlatt to the Big Blue River & downstream via the Kaw to you folks?

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 11 months ago

NBAF is going away, and Kansas will have congressional republicans as well as Brownback, Moran, and Roberts to thank for it.

Congressional republicans denied Obama's initial request for $150 million and gave him $50 million. This year, Obama is requesting $10 million.

Obama is tired of fighting for something with limited congressional suport and with the state's GOP caucus opposing him on every move.

Heckuva job Brownie, Robbie, and Jerry!

blindrabbit 5 years, 11 months ago

yourworst: Hope the thing dies, but why not also blame Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Eric Cantor. These cats so bolluxed-up the legislation flow, that Obama has underfunded any controversial, untested ideas; many have Kansas impacts including NABF, Keystone Pipeline and maybe even Boeing (probably due in-part to the Koch's). Sorry for the run-on sentence.

Shane Garrett 5 years, 11 months ago

The risk analysis is an up date due to security that was not in place during the first analysis. As the plans develop so does the risk analysis.

Joe Blackford II 5 years, 11 months ago

"security that was not in place during the first analysis"

What, the guard at the front gate will now check everybody's orifices for a Trojan (horse) of Bacillus anthracis; rather than just the Mad Scientist of the Day? Will that guard be a TSA scanner, or just a Midwest Research Institute sub-contractor?

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