Public healthSafety of planned Kansas Biosafety-Level 4 lab questioned

Published 16 November 2010

A new National Research Council report finds “several major shortcomings” in a DHS assessment of risks associated with operating the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas; one example: the report says there is nearly a 70 percent chance over the 50-year lifetime of the facility that a release of foot-and-mouth disease could result in an infection outside the laboratory, impacting the economy by estimates of $9 billion to $50 billion; roughly 9.5 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory lies within a 200-mile radius of the facility; another concern of the committee was the lack of an early-release detection and response system, clinical isolation facilities, and world-class infectious disease clinicians experienced in diagnosing and treating laboratory staff or communities exposed to dangerous pathogens that affect people

Carcasses burned after hoof-and-mouth breakout // Source: murdophoto.com

A new National Research Council report requested by Congress finds “several major shortcomings” in a DHS assessment of risks associated with operating the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas. 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 be transmitted 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 says the risks and costs of a pathogen being accidently released from the facility could be significantly higher than indicated by the assessment. Although the committee that wrote the report recognizes the need for a biocontainment facility to be built in the United States like the one proposed in Kansas, it was not asked to provide judgment about whether the location is appropriate for the proposed facility.

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 two miles off Long Island. The United States has not experienced an outbreak of FMD since 1929, and research involving FMD has not been permitted

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