Posted by Alla Katsnelson
July 27, 2009
A government report to be released later this week slams the plan to build a contested high security pathogen lab in Kansas, saying the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not properly evaluate the risks of conducting such research in the mainland, the Washington Post reports.
The report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the idea of building the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) in Kansas, or in any mainland location, was not “scientifically defensible,” according to the Post, and the DHS based its decision on a flawed risk assessment study.
Critics have argued that such research should be done on an island to provide an extra measure of protection in case of accidental release, and objected to conducting research on agricultural pathogens in a region of the country crucial for the agricultural industry. Kansas, specifically, is prone to tornadoes, which could damage the facility and further raise the risk of contamination.
Last May, the GAO came to a similar conclusion about the prospect of moving research on foot-and-mouth disease from an aging facility on an island in New York to a mainland lab. “We found that [the] DHS 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 GAO, said at a hearing then.
The NBAF is part of the DHS’s plan to modernize the country’s biological and agricultural defense research, but has been dogged by controversy from the start. In April, a Texas group (who supported building the facility in Texas) cried foul at the selection process, claiming that aggressive lobbying and political cronyism had caused officials to overlook the risk posed to such a lab by tornadoes frequent to Kansas. Kansas officials, however, have insisted that Kansas was selected on its merits in a fair and transparent process.
The GAO report will be discussed at a Congressional hearing set for Thursday, July 30. According to the Post, DHS officials last week tried to avert the hearing, and told officials the GAO did not have the authority to review the DHS’s risk assessment.
Texas to sue over biolab site
[24th April 2009]
Kansas wins controversial biolab?
[4th December 2008]
US homeland security to build animal biolab
[6th February 2006]