CDC lab containing deadly virus suffers power outage
By Alison Young - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/12/08
A laboratory building that contains a deadly strain of avian flu and other germs is among four that lost power for more than an hour Friday when a backup generator system failed again at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The outage affected air flow systems in labs that help contain such germs as the H5N1 flu virus, which some experts fear could cause a pandemic. But there were no exposures to infectious agents, and neither workers nor the public were at any risk, said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.
The outage is the latest in a string of mechanical and construction incidents at labs on the agency's Clifton Road campus â€” many in new buildings that are part of a $1 billion construction plan.
Last summer, an hour-long power outage at a different CDC lab tower, called Building 18, resulted in a congressional hearing. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is still examining safety at CDC's high-containment laboratories and concerns raised years ago by agency engineers that CDC's backup power system was likely to fail.
"It's important for people to understand that even though we lose power to these facilities from time to time, worker safety and the public's safety is not in jeopardy because multiple, redundant systems are in place, separate from those that rely on power," Skinner said Saturday.
Around 5:40 p.m. Friday, a Georgia Power transformer failed, cutting off electricity to part of the CDC campus. CDC's backup generators initially came on, Skinner said. But then the system detected some sort of power anomaly and shut itself off, cutting off backup power to three buildings, he said. More
‘High-consequence’: Two words that are key to bio-agro defense facility debate
WRAL- TechWire- Rick Smith
The economic developer reacted quite strongly to the question about whether local backers could prevail in efforts to build a bio-terror research facility near Butner.
“First of all,” he said, “there is no such thing as the bio-terror research facility.”
The proper name is National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.
The subject matter is downright scary: foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, the Hendra and Nipah viruses (encephalitis) …
A lot of people in the region have spoken out against locating the new Department of Homeland Security facility in our neck of the woods, no matter what the name. The release of a report about the project on Friday ignited a new round in the debate.
The facility would be used for “basic and advanced research, diagnostic testing and validation, countermeasure development (i.e., vaccines and antiviral therapies), and diagnostic training for high-consequence livestock diseases with potentially devastating impacts to U.S. agriculture and public health,” the feds said in the latest update/
That phrase “high-consequence” is a real eye-opener. More
How safe is 'safe enough' for NBAF? OnlineAthens.com
Study: NBAF most secure on island, but mainland sites kept in the running
While there practically is no chance viruses could escape from a massive proposed federal biological research laboratory if it's built on the mainland United States, the lab would be even safer on an island.
How much safer is up for debate.
Building the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility off the coast of New York is the safest of six options that include Athens, according to a lengthy environmental impact study the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released June 20.
Even David Lee, University of Georgia's vice president for research - the man leading a Georgia consortium trying to draw the lab to UGA-owned land on South Milledge Avenue - said he favors building the NBAF on Plum Island if that New York location is the safest place for it. More
Report compares costs of animal disease outbreak - The News & Observer
By Ted Bridis - Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The government acknowledged that an outbreak of one of the most contagious animal diseases from any of five locations being considered for a new high-security laboratory - an event it considered highly unlikely - would be more devastating to the U.S. economy than an outbreak from the isolated island lab where such research is now conducted.
The 1,005-page Homeland Security Department study, released Friday, calculated that economic losses in an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease could surpass $4 billion if the lab were built near livestock herds in Kansas or Texas, two options the Bush administration is considering. That would be roughly $1 billion higher than the government's estimate of losses blamed on a hypothetical outbreak from its existing laboratory on Plum Island, N.Y.
The administration is studying the safest place to move its research on such dangerous pathogens from Plum Island to the U.S. mainland near herds of livestock, raising concerns about a catastrophic outbreak. A final choice is expected by late fall. The foot-and-mouth virus does not infect humans but could devastate herds of cattle, swine, lambs and sheep.
The five locations the U.S. is considering are Athens, Ga.; Manhattan, Kan.; Butner, N.C.; San Antonio; and Flora, Miss. A sixth alternative would be construction of a new research lab on Plum Island. That option is considered less likely because the administration spent considerable time and money scouting new locations and because of financial concerns about operating from a location accessible only by ferry or helicopter.
Economic losses in an outbreak would exceed $3.3 billion if the new lab were built in Georgia, North Carolina or Mississippi, the report said. It calculated losses of $2.8 billion in an outbreak from Plum Island. More
CDC uses Duct Tape after a possible bio-terror bacteria release
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new $214 million infectious disease laboratory in Atlanta, scientists are conducting experiments on bioterror bacteria in a room with a containment door sealed with duct tape.
The tape was applied around the edges of the door a year ago after the building's ventilation system malfunctioned and pulled potentially contaminated air out of the lab and into a "clean" hallway.
Nine CDC workers were tested in May 2007 for potential exposure to the Q fever bacteria being studied in the lab, CDC officials said this week in response to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The air-flow incident occurred very early in the morning, before the workday began. The blood tests were done out of an "abundance of caution," CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said, and they showed that none of the workers who arrived after the incident were infected. More
Durham Rep request $25 million for the NBAF - Lisa Sorg/Independent Weekly
Call it a family favor.
State Rep. W.A. "Winkie" Wilkins, a Democrat representing Durham and Person counties, has introduced a bill that would appropriate $25 million to Granville County for infrastructure related to the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility—should it be sited in Butner.
Wilkins' brother, Mike Wilkins, is the vice president of statewide operations and economic development for the N.C. Biotechnology Center, one of the groups lobbying the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to place NBAF in Butner. Four other cities are also competing for the facility: Flora, Miss.; San Antonio, Texas; Athens, Ga.; and Manhattan, Kan.
A former legislator, Mike Wilkins told the Indy earlier this month that he had approached Democratic state Rep. Jim Crawford, who represents Granville and Vance counties, to sponsor the bill.
At the time, Crawford said he was undecided.
Rep. Wilkins could not be reached Wednesday afternoon for comment.
If the bill passes, the money reportedly would go to upgrading roads, sewer and other utilities that would serve the plant.
Durham resident Kathryn Spann, who opposes NBAF, met with Wilkins Wednesday morning to discuss the legislation, House Bill 2635. More
GNAT Press Release: “Congressional Testimony Reveals That Bio-Lab riskier and More Expensive than Homeland Security Represented” More
Government Accountability Office (GAO): “DHS Lacks Evidence to Conclude That Foot-and-mouth Disease Research Can Be Done Safely on the U.S. Mainland”
Read or download the GAO Report No. 08-821T : Release Date May 22 2008
Foot and Mouth plan used flawed study
By Larry Margasak ~ The Associated Press ~ May 22, 2008
The Bush administration relied on a flawed study to conclude that research on a highly infectious animal disease could safely be moved from an isolated island laboratory to sites on the mainland near livestock, congressional investigators concluded in findings obtained by The Associated Press.
The Homeland Security Department "does not have evidence" that foot-and-mouth disease research can be conducted on the U.S. mainland without significant risk of an animal epidemic, Congress' Government Accountability Office said.
Officials from the GAO and the Homeland Security Department were expected to square off Thursday at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. The administration isn't backing down on its view that modern laboratories have the highest security to prevent an escape of the virus.
The one certainty in the debate that has divided the commercial livestock industry: making the wrong choice could bring on an economic catastrophe.
While the disease does not sicken humans, an outbreak on the U.S. mainland — avoided since 1929 — could lead to slaughter of millions of animals, a halt in U.S. livestock movements, a ban on exports and severe losses in the production of meat and milk. More
Rep. John Dingell threatens DHS with supoenas, for not providing the GAO and the Subcommittee with requested documents.
“DHS has not been forthcoming in providing records and information requested by the Committee,” said Dingell. “In several instances, the Committee has only been provided copies of certain key records after Committee staff discovered their existence, despite the fact that we specifically requested all such records. This is simply not acceptable.”
“Dingell said that the Committee would continue its investigation into DHS’ proposal and warned DHS Undersecretary Jay Cohen that if the Department did not cooperate with the Committee and supply requested records and documents, the Committee could resort to subpoenaing information”.
Watch the video of the exchange.
If you missed the Congressional Hearing Germs, Viruses and Secrets: Government Plans to Move Exotic Disease Research to the Mainland United States on May 23, 2008
Watch the entire hearing (the video starts at approx. 04:00)
$25 million could go to NBAF - Lisa Sorg - Independent Weekly
Keeping up with the Georgias
North Carolina taxpayers could chip in $25 million for the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility, a federal disease research lab proposed for Butner.
State Rep. Jim Crawford, a Democrat representing Granville and Vance counties, says officials from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, which is a member of the state consortium lobbying to bring the facility to the area, asked him to introduce a bill that would appropriate $25 million to the NBAF.
"I don't know if I'll introduce it yet or not," Crawford says, cautioning the proposed legislation hasn't been written. "It's a little premature."
The General Assembly convenes May 13.
Mike Wilkins, senior vice president of statewide operations and economic development at the N.C. Biotechnology Center, acknowledges he spoke with Crawford about funding for the project's infrastructure, such as water, sewer and roads.
Wilkins is a former three-term legislator and senior policy adviser to House Speaker Joe Hackney.
Asked where the $25 million amount came from, Wilkins says "it's just a figure." More
(Photo: Plum Island Animal Disease Center Building 257, closed in 1995, sits fenced and boarded up on Plum Island off of the east coast of New York's Long Island.)
Govt. acknowledges accidents at virus lab By Larry Margasak - Associated Press Writer
Fears arise over plan to move foot-and-mouth disease lab to mainland
WASHINGTON - The only U.S. facility allowed to research the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease experienced several accidents with the feared virus, the Bush administration acknowledged Friday.
A 1978 release of the virus into cattle holding pens on Plum Island, N.Y., triggered new safety procedures. While that incident was previously known, the Homeland Security Department told a House committee there were other accidents inside the government’s laboratory.
The accidents are significant because the administration is likely to move foot-and-mouth research from the remote island to one of five sites on the U.S. mainland near livestock herds. This has raised concerns about the risks of a catastrophic outbreak of the disease, which does not sicken humans but can devastate the livestock industry.
Skeptical Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee demanded to see internal documents from the administration that they believe highlight the risks and consequences of moving the research. The live virus has been confined to Plum Island for more than a half-century to keep it far from livestock. More
Bush Administration may move foot-and-mouth research to mainland, near livestock
The International Herald Tribune
The Bush administration is likely to move its research on one of the most contagious animal diseases from an isolated island laboratory to the U.S. mainland near herds of livestock, raising concerns about a catastrophic outbreak.
Skeptical Democrats in Congress are demanding to see internal documents they believe highlight the risks and consequences of the decision. An epidemic of the disease, foot and mouth, which only affects animals, could devastate the livestock industry.
One such government report, produced last year and already turned over to lawmakers by the Homeland Security Department, combined commercial satellite images and federal farm data to show the proximity to livestock herds of locations that have been considered for the new lab. "Would an accidental laboratory release at these locations have the potential to affect nearby livestock?" asked the nine-page document. It did not directly answer the question.
A simulated outbreak of the disease — part of an earlier U.S. government exercise called "Crimson Sky" — ended with fictional riots in the streets after the simulation's National Guardsmen were ordered to kill tens of millions of farm animals, so many that troops ran out of bullets. In the exercise, the government said it would have been forced to dig a ditch in Kansas 25 miles (40 kilometers) long to bury carcasses. In the simulation, protests broke out in some cities amid food shortages. More
GROUP SUES TO STOP EXPERIMENTS WITH BIO-WEAPON AGENTS AT LIVERMORE NUCLEAR WEAPONS LAB; CHARGES ENERGY DEPT DID NOT PROPERLY EVALUATE TERRORISM, OTHER RISKS
LIVERMORE - A lawsuit filed in Federal Court today under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) aims to stop the operation of a bio-warfare agent research facility at the Livermore Lab main site. The Dept. of Energy (DOE) began conducting experiments on January 25, 2008 on the basis of a faulty, unsupported "finding of no significant impact" (FONSI) without conducting a legally adequate environmental review and public comment process.
The Livermore-based Tri-Valley CAREs' lawsuit challenges the DOE approval to begin experiments with deadly pathogens such as live anthrax, plague and Q fever in a portable Biosafety Level-3 (BSL-3) facility that includes three internal labs.
Tri-Valley CAREs' suit asks the Federal Court to grant interim injunctive relief, stopping the operation of the BSL-3 while the case is being considered. The litigation further asks the Court to consider four counts against DOE. They are:
(1) Failure to prepare an adequate environmental assessment and FONSI,
(2) Failure to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement and hold
(3) Failure to supplement the environmental assessment when significant new information became available (including Livermore Lab's violation of multiple laws and regulations that led to an anthrax release), and
(4) Failure to comply with applicable regulations, including the one governing the circumstances under which a FONSI must be circulated for public review and comment before it can be finalized.
Experiments, Risks and the Potential for Terrorism More
Bidding War for Biowarfare Labs
The Germs Next Door
By Stan Cox - Counter Punch
What would it take to convince you that your town should play host to the world's most feared human and animal pathogens? Believe it or not, five states are locked in fierce competition over a proposed bioterror lab that would have them doing just that.
In 2002, the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was given control of Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. Now DHS is seeking a home in the heartland for a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) that would take over Plum Island's work, along with its potent microbial cultures. The fact that many diseases are now known to jump between humans and animals, combined with this decade's terror-fixation, has led the federal government to convert the agricultural problem of sick livestock into the national-security problem of bioterrorism.
Do I hear a bid?
Lying off the east end of New York's Long Island, Plum Island (which was under the Department of Agriculture until 2002) is the only place in the nation where scientists have previously been allowed to handle the pathogens that cause foot-and-mouth disease, rinderpest, Rift Valley fever, African swine fever, and other horrific maladies that, if let loose on the mainland, could cause billions in agricultural losses and even threaten human populations. More
What's behind the boom in homeland-security and emergency-management majors?
By Jessica Portner - Slate
The traditionally slow-moving education industry is churning out a slew of students with specialties in "mass catastrophe" and "international disaster." More than 200 colleges have created homeland-security degree and certificate programs since 9/11, and another 144 have added emergency management with a terrorism bent.
Homeland security is outpacing most other majors in part because governments and corporations are hungry to hire professionals schooled in disaster. One-quarter of the top slots—from presidential appointments to high-level civil servants to scientific posts—at the Department of Homeland Security remained empty last year. And with one-third of posts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency vacant, thousands of graduates are landing lucrative government gigs before they've finished their weapons of mass destruction final. A student at the University of North Texas now works as an emergency planner in Florida when he's not tracking hurricanes for fun. A graduate of the University of Southern California's Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events is using his dissertation, rooted in game theory, to help police at Los Angeles International Airport improve inspections. Others are security directors on ships or bomb specialists at luxury hotels. More
Plum Island: BioWarfare Laboratory?
by David Keppel - Gene Watch
Plum Island is a legend, but not a myth. Just off Orient Point, Long Island, and six miles from the Connecticut coast, Plum Island is the site of a United States Agriculture Department Animal Disease Research Center. The USDA acquired the island from the War Department at the end of World War II with a charter from Congress to study animal diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease. In surrounding communities, distrust of Plum Island runs deep. Lyme Disease takes its name from a Connecticut town across from the island: many wonder whether birds or swimming animals could have brought the disease from Plum Island. Some suspect this might be the case with West Nile Virus as well. Plum Island officials, of course, dismiss such hypotheses as fantasy.
Therefore, citizens were galvanized by the news, beginning with a September 22, 1999 New York Times article, that the USDA plans to expand its Plum Island laboratory to make it an ultra high-hazard Biosafety Level Four (BSL-4) facility. BSL-4 status would allow the lab to study zoonotic diseases, such as the Nipah Virus, anthrax, and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, all lethal to both animals and humans. The Times article, edited by national security correspondent Judith Miller, said that Floyd P. Horn, Administrator of the Agriculture Research Service, had persuaded President Clinton to include Plum Island in his expanded program on bioterrorism. Horn’s reasoning suggested terrorists might target livestock to hurt the US economy.
In stormy public hearings in Connecticut and on Long Island, citizens challenged both the safety and the purpose of the expanded laboratory. Many consider it an intolerable risk in a highly populated area. Though on an island, Plum Island's lab is not truly quarantined. Scientists and other laboratory workers commute to Connecticut and Long Island. At the public hearing in Waterbury, Connecticut, one Plum Island scientist told the audience “we hug our kids every night,” so trying to persuade the audience that he considered the work safe and they should too. The audience was not reassured. In August 1994, a worker at Yale’s Arbovirus Laboratory became infected with Sabia Virus but went home and then to Boston before realizing his symptoms were serious. The risk of accidental exposure would be greater on Plum Island, where instead of cultures in flasks (as at Yale), there are animal populations infected with zoonotic diseases (an illness communicable from animals to humans under natural conditions). Such diseases have incubation times of days: a worker could easily go home or travel without realizing that they had been infected.
Why 40 North Carolina Physcians oppose The National Bio Agro Defense Facility
By Dr. Joseph Melamed
Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League’s
National Bio Agro Defense Facility’s - Fact Sheet
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