Mainland animal lab poses risks: GAO

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not demonstrated that moving foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) research from an island lab in New York to a linkurl:new mainland animal research facility;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23091/ would be safe, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told a Congressional committee this morning (May 22). "We found that linkurl:DHS;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54186/ has not conducted or commissioned any study" to assess whether

By | May 22, 2008

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not demonstrated that moving foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) research from an island lab in New York to a linkurl:new mainland animal research facility;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23091/ would be safe, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told a Congressional committee this morning (May 22). "We found that linkurl:DHS;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54186/ has not conducted or commissioned any study" to assess whether FMD can be safely researched on the mainland, Nancy Kingsbury, managing director of applied research and methods at the GOA, told the committee. Instead, she said, the agency based its decision on a 2002 study conducted by the USDA that examined technical feasibility, not safety. "That's a very different question," she said. The FMD virus is one of the most contagious of all animal diseases, and since 1955 research on the pathogen has been conducted exclusively in a lab on Plum Island, about three miles off the coast of Long Island, NY. The Plum Island lab is linkurl:in dire need of renovations,;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23731/ however, and the government has proposed relocating FMD research to a new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to be built on the mainland, which would house the largest high-security biocontainment facility in the world. So far, five finalist sites have been proposed for the facility: Athens, Ga.; Manhattan, Kan.; Butner, NC.; Flora, Miss., and San Antonio, TX. The plan has been greeted with controversy, with opponents saying that an FMD leak -- such as occurred in the UK in 2001 and linkurl:2007;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54423/ -- so close to US farms and ranches could wreak economic havoc, and cost the country as much as $40 billion. Congressman John Dingell (D-Mich), a member of the committee, noted at the hearing that the 2002 report on which DHS based its assertion that a mainland facility would be safe in fact supported renovating the Plum Island lab rather than moving FMD research to a new facility. The GAO also said that DHS has refused to turn over risk assessment documents that have been commissioned for the Plum Island research facility, and the five mainland sites under consideration for the new facility -- making a true assessment of safety impossible. According to the GAO, an accidental release occurred at Plum Island in 1978, but the virus didn't spread thanks to the lab's island location. New FMD research facilities recently built in Germany and Denmark have been sequestered islands for safety reasons as well, Kinsgbury told the committee. But Congressman Chip Pickering (R-Miss) argued that a land-based facility would indeed be safe. He said the protection offered by a 3-6 mile distance from the mainland was illusory, since winds could easily carry the virus such a distance to the mainland.

Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

May 22, 2008

Chip Pickering argues that the wind could easily carry the virus from Plum Island to the mainland. Therefore he thinks that putting the facility on the mainland would be safer? I fail to see the logic there. \n\nIt's not a case of "if" an accidental release occurs, but "when". At Pirbright in the UK there have been two accidents within the last year or so, and at least one of those resulted in an FMD outbreak on a nearby farm. \n\nKeeping the facility off the mainland is a no-brainer.
Avatar of: Joshua Sloan

Joshua Sloan

Posts: 9

May 22, 2008

Yep, keeping on an island is a definite no brainer.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

May 22, 2008

This has been a planning disaster from the very beginning. All of the valid issues that have surfaced focus on environmental safety. There should be reconsideration of all proposed sites with one major addition. That addition should be Johnson Island in the Pacific. The US already owns it and it contains a significant amount of federal land. It is the safest place environmentally that such studies of foreign animal and zoonotic diseases could be studied. Although some might parallel that proposal with the use of the Black Sea island by the old Soviet Union for Coxiella burnetti research, Johnson Island would appear to be a more viable option.
Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

May 22, 2008

Literature shows FMD spreading from 40 to 300 miles by wind. (Although, I suspect the latter is more likely on the feet of birds.) That would suggest an even more remote island being a better location, although it can be hard to find researchers wanting to be that isolated. \n\nWhat is the risk of doing no research on FMD becaue of bureaucratic deadlock? That needs to be answered also.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

May 22, 2008

You may have missed his point; that winds can spread FMD so an island location gives a false sense of security, not that it is "safer" on the mainland.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 3

May 22, 2008

Congressman Chip Pickering (R-Miss)logic follows the federal grant dollars, not science or the risk assessment. The FMD issue is really a no brainer as everyone has commented. The researcher/lab tech carries the virus within their tissue and bodily fiulds for up to ten days after exposure to the pathogen. Also they can not own or have contact with any animals and are restricted from events or facilities including zoos, carnivals, etc. Isolation is the only logical means of dealing with FMD research.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 3

May 27, 2008

What about the possibility of using the Army Research Lab in the Western Desert of Utah? It is pretty isolated, and they already work with extremely dangerous viruses and bacteria; probably nothing quite as contagious as FMD. I think there are animals within a possible range of transmission, so maybe the very remote island possibility would be more reasonable

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