DHS Biocontainment Report Comes Up Short

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 @ 03:11 PM gHale


There are “several major shortcomings” in a U.S. Department of Homeland Security assessment of risks associated with operating the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, KS, according to a National Research Council report requested by Congress.
The laboratory would study dangerous foreign animal diseases, including the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), which affects cattle, pigs, deer, and other cloven-hoofed animals, and diseases deadly to humans that can transmit between animals and people.
Based on the DHS risk assessment reviewed by the Research Council committee, there is nearly a 70 percent chance over the 50-year lifetime of the facility that a release of FMD could result in an infection outside the laboratory, impacting the economy by estimates of $9 billion to $50 billion.
The Research Council report said the risks and costs of a pathogen being accidently released from the facility could be significantly higher than indicated by the assessment.
“Building a facility that is capable of large animal work on a scale greater than other high-containment laboratories presents new and unknown risks that could not be accounted for in the DHS risk assessment because of a lack of data and experience,” said Ronald Atlas, chair of the committee, a professor of biology and public health, and co-director of the Center for Health Preparedness at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. “The risk assessment should be viewed as a starting point, and given more time, it could have progressed further. As more information emerges, an updated analysis could be appropriate.”
Congress requested that DHS produce a site-specific biosafety and biosecurity risk assessment (SSRA) of the proposed NBAF, and it asked the Research Council to review the validity and adequacy of the document. Until these studies are complete, Congress has withheld funds to build the NBAF. The facility would be the world’s third Biosafety-Level 4 Pathogen laboratory that could work with large animals; the other two facilities are in Australia and Canada. It would replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center located nearly 2 miles off Long Island. The United States has not experienced an outbreak of FMD since 1929, and the government has not allowed research involving FMD on the U.S. mainland since 1937.
The committee found the SSRA has many legitimate conclusions, but it remained concerned the assessment does not fully account for how a Biosafety-Level 3 Agriculture and Biosafety-Level 4 Pathogen facility would operate or how pathogens might be accidently released. In particular, the SSRA does not include important operation risks and mitigation issues, such as the risk associated with the daily cleaning of large animal rooms. It also fails to address risks that would likely increase the chances of an FMD leak or of the disease’s spread after a leak, including the NBAF’s close proximity to the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine clinics and KSU football stadium or personnel moving among KSU facilities.



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