NBAF Status Report
Posted by tmanney on February 1, 2011
In 2018 Manhattan will become a different kind of place if the U. S. Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) and KSU have their way. It will become the world-famous home of a major biodefense germ laboratory, the NBAF. It is being built next to the KSU Biosafety Research Institute (BRI) and veterinary medicine, across from the football stadium, and less than a mile of the livestock area of campus.
NBAF will replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, on an island just off of Long Island, New York. This is the only place in the U. S. where Foot-and-Mouth Disease can be studied. The 9/11 attacks and the anthrax letters triggered a seemingly hysterical escalation of the domestic biodefense effort. The expected $450 million lab propelled a contentious and highly politicized nation-wide competition to be the site for NBAF. The new facility would not only bring the risk for studying Foot and Mouth Disease onto the mainland, but would study agents that can infect both animals and humans and for which there is no cure or vaccine. These require the highest level of biosafety containment.
For the proponents it is all about economic development and fighting biological terrorism. The imposing list of proponents includes the U.S. DHS, K-State, and the Kansas Bioscience Authority, the entire Kansas congressional delegation, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, The Manhattan Mercury, the Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Livestock Association, and the Manhattan City Commission.
For most of the opponents, it is about public safety. The principal critics are the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO), the National Academy of Sciences committee, a variety of national livestock organizations, Kansas Cattlemen’s Association and a loosely knit group of Manhattan concerned citizens and ranchers calling themselves No NBAF in Kansas
Homeland Security selected Manhattan as the site over the warning of the GAO, who reported to congress that DHS lacks evidence to conclude that Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research can be done safely on the U.S. mainland. This alarmed members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee who called for DHS to complete a Site-Specific Risk Assessment (SSRA) to address GAO’s concerns, with the condition that DHS’ methodology would be reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS/NRC). However NAS was specifically told neither do an independent safety evaluation nor judge Manhattan’s selection.
Their November report concluded that there was a 70% chance that Foot-and-Mouth Disease would be accidentally released from the site during the facility’s lifespan. Millions of livestock would be slaughtered, as is happening now in Korea and U.S. beef exports would be embargoed worldwide. It would cost the nation between $9 and $50 billion.
The proponents tried to discredit the reports by characterizing this threat as “extremely low.” Sen. Brownback attached a $40 million earmark to the spending bill that would begin work on the Manhattan site. The earmark was cut in the final days of the 2010 session.
The National Academy acknowledged that the Plum Island facility is old and needs repair, but also that “further risk analysis” was needed to validate the site in Manhattan. The NAS committee concludes the only thing they were mandated to say, “Ultimately, policy makers will need to decide whether the risks of constructing the lab in Manhattan, Kansas, are acceptable.”
The No NBAF in Kansas is trying to rally an appeal to members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to not approve the funds, and to repeal language inserted by the Senate requiring DHS to sell Plum Island. This creates an artificial timeline and makes this a “done deal.”
Kenneth King, Germs Gone Wild, 2010 (Pegasus Books, LLC)
Michael Christopher Carroll, Lab 257, 2004 (Harper Books)
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