Study cites flaws in decision to move Plum Island lab to Kansas

Aug 07, 2009
Washington -- A new government study says the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) didn’t adequately assess the biosecurity and economic risks of moving the Plum Island, N.Y., animal-disease research lab to a Kansas State University site in Manhattan, Kan.

The study, prepared for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), says moving dangerous research in foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) from an island off the northeast tip of Long Island, N.Y., to Midwestern farm country could pose greater risks in the event of an accidental dispersal of the disease by a tornado, terrorist act or some other means.

And it says that, while an FMD outbreak at Plum Island could have a $31 million economic impact, one in Kansas could have a $1 billion or greater impact because of its close proximity to livestock.

The DHS announced last December that it had chosen the Kansas site over four others in Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi to build the new National Agro and Bio-Defense Facility (NABF) costing between $560 million and $650 million.

Kansas officials still expect construction to start in July 2010 on the facility, creating 1,500 jobs and pumping some $3.5 billion into the Kansas economy when the facility opens in about 2015.

But, although the 2010 federal budget has funds to plan for the NABF, the U.S. House of Representatives withheld any construction funds until DHS commissions an independent study, and the Senate also is requiring another study. A conference committee is to work out the differences.

“Given the significant limitations in DHS's analyses that we found, the conclusion that FMD work can be done as safely on the mainland as on Plum Island is not supported,” the GAO report states.

The proposal to replace the aging Plum Island facility was “essentially a rush job,” says U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.). He urged DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano “to revisit the decision to phase out Plum Island,” but Napolitano says the decision to put the lab in Kansas was properly researched and should go forward.