Debate intensifies in Kentucky over Level-4 Bioafety lab

Published 3 March 2006

Last week we reported about the growing unease among residents of Pulaski County, Kentucky, with the efforts of Representative Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky) to bring a federal bioterrorism lab to the county. Two days ago the congressman gave a group of local business executives a bit of an ultimatum. The county will not get the lab if local residents and business leaders object, he said. “If you don’t want the thing, we’ll just fold our hands and go away,” Rogers said at the Center for Rural Development. “But if you do want it, you have to say so.” The majority of more than 200 in the crowd sent the Somerset Republican the message that they do want it. There were some tough questions from local farmers about the security and safety, but the group gave Rogers two standing ovations and answered his exhortation — “If you want this, give it to us now!” — with applause.

Last week Rogers and other political and academic leaders announced that Kentucky and Tennessee were working together to bring a federal research facility to Pulaski County. Scientists at the proposed lab would study foreign animal diseases, including foot and mouth disease, and zoonotic agents, which infect humans and animals. The facility would have labs with both biosafety levels 3 and 4. BSL-4 means that researchers would work inside special biohazard suits and be able to study the most dangerous pathogens known, such as Ebola and anthrax. Much of their work, which would be overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, would be classified. Rogers predicted that the lab, which would cost $451 million to build and employ 410 people when finished, would be an economic boon to the region.

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