U.S. animal disease lab carries risks, report says
The laboratory is part of the government's efforts to prevent natural disease outbreaks or terroristic bio-attacks on the U.S.
Mon, Nov 15 2010 at 7:43 PM
OLD LAB: The proposed new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Kansas would replace an aging 24-acre research complex on Plum Island, about 1.5 miles off the eastern shore of New York's Long Island. (Photo: Associated Press)
KANSAS CITY (Reuters) - A high-security laboratory that the U.S. government wants to build in Kansas to study dangerous animal diseases could jeopardize the safety of U.S. livestock and expose them to highly contagious pathogens, according to a report requested by Congress.
The proposed lab would be the world's third Biosafety-Level 4 Pathogen laboratory that could work with large animals. The other facilities are in Australia and Canada.
The government wants to build the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas.
The laboratory is part of the U.S. government's efforts to prevent natural disease outbreaks or terroristic bio-attacks on the U.S. food supply and agricultural economy.
But the council's report, requested by Congress before it funds construction of the facility, said that a risk assessment conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security revealed "several major shortcomings."
Among the risks, the council said, is a nearly 70 percent chance over the 50-year lifetime of the facility that the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) could be released, and it estimated that a spreading infection could cost the economy $9 billion to $50 billion.
The United States has not experienced an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease since 1929, and research involving FMD has not been permitted on the U.S. mainland since 1937.
Jamie Johnson, director of the Office of National Laboratories for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Monday that the council's findings could be helpful in designing the facility and mitigation strategies, but should not deter completion of the project.
He said Homeland Security was moving forward with the project on schedule.
"We plan to stay the course," Johnson said. "There is a need for this facility ... to study the new and emerging diseases in livestock."
Homeland Security spokesman Chris Ortman said the calculations of risk did not account for any of the recommended mitigation measures that Homeland Security has committed to incorporating into the final design. And he said the department will continue to work with U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control to ensure all recommendations from the site-specific risk assessment are properly implemented and all biosafety and biosecurity requirements have been met.
"No permits will be issued by either USDA or the CDC until all requirements are met," said Ortman. "DHS will not build or operate the NBAF unless it can be done in a safe manner."
(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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