NBAF in Manhattan Based on Faulty Scientific Logic
Posted by tmanney on March 8, 2012
Letter To the Editor by Gary Conrad
Neither KSU faculty nor most other working people were able to participate in the NBAF comments meeting that was held on Jan.27 at the beginning of a normal MWF teaching day (on Fridays, I have a 7:30 AM class, followed by a 9 AM meeting, so I could not attend). If the NBAF committee really wished to receive comments from the public, as well as from working KSU faculty, it could easily have been scheduled on an evening at the firehouse nearby, the conveniently accessible site of so many other similar meetings. The simplest conclusion, therefore, is that the group in charge of orchestrating this charade was not all that serious about making the meeting easily accessible to the elderly, to members of the general public, or to KSU faculty.
The essential scientific argument against locating an NBAF here is centered around the statistical likelihood of an escape of hoof & mouth (H&M) disease virus. However, no manufacturer of a “laminar flow biological safety cabinet”(the primary piece of equipment used routinely in our KSU labs, the BRI, and the NBAF, to prevent contaminating microorganisms from entering or escaping) would say that there is NO chance of a virus release, but only that the chance is very, very low. Well, that likelihood can be as low as the sponsors of the NBAF here would like to make it, because that release only has to happen once, and it is as likely to happen during the first hour that H&M virus is used, as during the lab’s 25th year in the future. The effects in both cases will be the same: the required euthanization of all livestock within a very large radius around KSU and the already predictable responses by Japan and other markets for Kansas beef.
The scientific logic supporting the location of an NBAF here therefore is deeply flawed. The NBAF could easily be located at any of a variety of sites along (or off) the East coast, where prevailing winds would blow any virus released out to sea. That was (and still is) the logic for choosing Plum Island. Such a site could be as easily defended from terrorists as any lab here. At many remote coastal sites few people would routinely travel close to the lab, in remarkably sharp contrast to the KSU site sitting amazingly only a few hundred yards away from parking lots full of football fans. Thus, to locate the NBAF here, in the middle of cattle country, is like building a brand-new, very safe fireworks factory right in the middle of a functioning oil refinery, unfortunately also an analogy that could equally well be applied to the logic of building an oil pipeline over the Ogallala High Plains/Great Plains Aquifer that supplies drinking and agricultural water to 8 states from South Dakota to Texas.
The scientific logic underlying both the KSU-NBAF and the pipeline projects is that the risk of a single release of H&M virus or of a large oil spill is very, very low. The flaw in that logic, however, is the lack of consideration given to the already predictable, instant, long-term consequences of either such incident, accidental or willfully purposeful. Yes, it would only take one malicious person in the NBAF, or standing next to that pipeline, to perform one bad action and the future of the Mid-west would be changed in a heartbeat.
Instead, let’s look for other, less dangerous ways to create jobs and funding for Kansas than thinking that the laws of scientific logic do not apply here, or that they can be re-defined.
Sincerely, Gary W. Conrad 610 Fairchild Terrace Manhattan, KS 66502
Note: although I am a Professor of Biology at KSU, I am writing this letter as simply a private citizen. I am NOT a spokesperson for KSU in this matter. Thank you.
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