From the folks that brought you duct tape and Saran Wrap as a solution to biochemical warfare — The Department of Homeland Security — we have another inspiredly idiotic idea. It really is time for Dr. Strangelove Returns.
The plan is to move the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) from Plum Island, a barrier island off the coast of Long Island, NY — its home for the last 60 years — to Manhattan, Kansas.
The mission statement of the Plum Island Disease Center reads: “We work to protect farm animals, farmers and ranchers, the nation’s farm economy and export markets…and your food supply.”
Plum Island was managed by the US Army and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) until its management was taken over by Homeland Security in 2003. It operates under very close cover. The only access on and off Plum Island is via government ferry supervised by armed guards. The USDA proudly claims Plum Island as “America’s first line of defense against foreign animal diseases.”
No one really knows what goes on at Plum Island (except maybe the people who work there). We do know that it’s the place where the connection between West Nile Virus and dead horses was made. It’s designated as a biosafety level 5 facility. The Island has no wildlife. But the freezers have polio and Rift Valley Fever. The deer that swim onto the island are killed.
When the facility moves to Kansas, it will be a biosafety level 4 (BSL4) laboratory. That’s even more dangerous, but there are no plans to kill the million and a half cows that live in Kansas.
The lab will, however, be able to experiment with infectious agents that can be transmitted through the air and for which there are no vaccines or therapies to deploy in the event of exposure. Ho hum, anthrax. The upgrade will also allow the lab to work with a whole host of zoonotic diseases – those are diseases that jump the species barrier.
Who could possibly conceive of moving such a facility to the middle of the country? A state with over a million and a half cows?
If all goes as planned, we’ll now enjoy expanded research capabilities for hoof and mouth disease, along with a bevy of incurable contagians, and potential biological weapons right in America’s heartland.
Playing around with hoof and mouth disease is high on the list. The design of the facility has already been altered after a report by the National Research Council (NRC) found that there was a 70 percent probability that hoof and mouth disease could be released over the 50 year life of the facility. The NRC has found that there are still “deficiencies” and “risks associated with operating the facility.”