$30 million expansion and upgrade fuels speculation about how long aging Plum Island facility will stay open
By John Dudley Miller | June 27, 2006
The Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York will receive a $30 million expansion and upgrade, despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has said it might shut the lab down when a new facility goes into operation in 2013.
Planned improvements to the 55-year-old facility will include a new 8,000 square feet animal wing, a conversion of 2,500 existing square feet to new BSL-3 space, and a new firehouse/motor pool building. Upgrades will modernize the water system, the electrical system, the cold-water chillers, and the wastewater decontamination system. In December 2002 the Center lost power for three hours when its backup generators failed.
DHS spokesman Chris Kelly told The Scientist that DHS requested the Plum Island improvements in 2003, just after it assumed control of the facility, formerly overseen by the Department of Agriculture. The decision to spend this money ?is completely separate? from the Department?s decision build a new $451 million, 500,000 square feet National Bio- and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF), he said, and there has been no decision regarding whether to keep Plum Island open along with the NBAF.
?Until the NBAF is fully operational, Kelly said, Plum Island ?will continue its important mission by educating veterinarians about foreign animal diseases and continuing to develop novel diagnostic techniques and preventatives.?
Jon Schneider, press secretary to Congressman Tim Bishop, whose district includes Plum Island, told The Scientist that Bishop has asked DHS Secretary Chertoff to keep Plum Island open. ?We received no assurances about the future of Plum Island.?
Alan Pearson, a former DHS advisor now with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said that although he doesn?t know DHS? plans, ?In my opinion, this notice means that DHS is keeping its options open with regard to the future of the Plum Island facility after NBAF comes on line.?
Harley Moon, a former Plum Island director, said $30 million in improvements might be needed just to keep research at Plum Island safe. ?It?s a horrendous cost, I know,? he said, ?but we?re stuck with Plum Island right now, and that?s the cost of doing business.?
Regarding the NBAF, the DHS has received 29 applications from 22 states and the District of Columbia, Kelly said. ?At some point in the coming weeks a select list of applicants will be announced,? he said.
John Dudley Miller
Links within this article
Department of Homeland Security Plum Island Animal Disease Center Fact Sheet
?A-E Services for programming & design of integrated facility improvements at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center,? Federal Business Opportunities, June 9, 2006.
Department of Homeland Security Plum Island FAQs, Question 36
Government Accountability Office, "Combating bioterrorism: Actions need to improve security at Plum Island Animal Disease Center," GAO report number GAO-03-847, October 20, 2003
J.D. Miller, ?US homeland security to build animal biolab,? The Scientist, February 6, 2006
?Congressman Bishop, Senator Clinton discuss Plum Island?s future with Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff,? October 6, 2005
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
J.D. Miller, ?More applicants for US bio-agro lab,? The Scientist, May 17, 2006