Questions about the selection of the Manhattan site surfaced in 2009 following the release of a Government Accountability
Office (GAO) report criticizing DHS for failing to assess the biosecurity and economic risks of moving the facility from New
York to Kansas. The report noted that a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak at Plum Island would have a $31 million economic impact
in comparison to a $1 billion economic impact in Kansas.
Construction initially was expected to begin in July 2010, but the GAO study caused a delay, resulting in lawmakers calling
for additional studies by DHS.
But DHS revealed in a new report released in February that there is no reason to doubt Manhattan is a safe location for NBAF.
"The (facility's design) is sound and has no evident fundamental flaws or design features that would prohibit the implementation
of the best and safest practices used in animal and zoonotic pathogen research facilities," DHS notes. "The estimated expected
probability that an accidental release of viable (foot-and-mouth-disease virus) from the NBAF will occur and result in a subsequent
outbreak during the NBAF's nominal 50-year operating lifetime is less than 0.11 percent (including catastrophic events such
as tornadoes and earthquakes) and less than 0.008 percent when catastrophic events are excluded."
The new DHS assessment of the current NBAF plans also includes a number of additional recommendations, such as adding disinfection
fixtures to showers between containment levels and developing protocols that reduce handling of and exposure to potentially
infectious packages outside of containment.
Richardson says it is his understanding that the additional studies requested by the Obama administration in regard to the
NBAF project have more to do with the cost of construction rather than the design or location of the facility.
"This study has been one that has been pending for some period of time," Richardson says of the new DHS report that was conducted
by the National Academies of Sciences. "I would debate that with this report and with appropriate legislative discussions
that we'll go ahead and be on track as we have been."
U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) say they hope the release of the new report will calm concerns
in Congress and help secure the funding that will move the project along.
"The safety of NBAF's research is a top priority, and this updated report confirms that the NBAF design is sound," Moran says
in a prepared statement. "Without NBAF, our country remains at risk from foreign-animal-disease outbreaks. It is critical
that construction of NBAF begin immediately to safeguard against these threats and the devastation they would cause."
"Now that this study has been delivered to Congress, I eagerly await DHS to begin construction," Roberts says. "This report
fills the Congressional requirements to release the funds, and I expect DHS to do so."