Letter to the editor: Biodefense lab bad idea for Manhattan
To the editor:
The Department of Homeland Security is proposing to move foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) research from Plum Island, N.Y., onto the United States mainland.
Kansas State University is tied as the top-rated site. The U.S. Government Accountability Office was asked to evaluate the evidence DHS used to support its decision. The title of the report tells us what it concluded "HIGH-CONTAINMENT BIOSAFETY LABORATORIES: DHS Lacks Evidence to Conclude That Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Can Be Done Safely on the U.S. Mainland" GAO-08-821T, May 22,2008 - viewable online at www.gao.gov/new.items/d08821t.pdf.
Kansas wind can carry aerosolized Foot and Mouth virus 30 miles. An infected hog can exhale 400 million viruses a day. It takes as few as 10 viruses to infect an animal.
Imagining a worst-case scenario, what would happen if an accidental release coincided with perhaps an Open House day at the university or a KSU/Nebraska football game? How would you quarantine the surrounding area? An accident doesn't have to happen on the hour but within the period of days before the release becomes recognized. With sheep, that could be 10 to 15 days. The KSU sheep pastures, used as overflow parking on game days, are just catty-corner from the proposed site. The first accidental FMD disease release at Pirbright Bio Security Level-4 lab happened in 2001. By the time the disease was eradicated, more than 6 million animals had been slaughtered and their carcasses burned.
Livestock export was banned and the estimated cost to the British government and non-compensated losses were $30 billion. Pirbright had another eight separate releases during a two-month period in 2007, which started when a tree root caused a leak in a lab sewer pipe and a truck carried contaminated mud to neighboring farms. Ranchers in Riley and adjacent counties own about 450,000 livestock. Now picture the sheep pasture "parking lot" emptying, with KSU and Nebraska fans driving in all directions' back to their farms.
Several of the diseases to be studied here also infect humans, and BSL-4 means there is no vaccine and no cure. These are the worst pathogens known. You have about a week to call the Department of Homeland Security (866) 501-NBAF (6223) to leave the message that this - actually any place on the mainland - is a really bad idea. Their public comment period ends Aug. 25.