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High Security Animal Disease Lab Faces Uncertain Future

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the not-in-my-backyard dept.

Security 105

Dupple writes in with a story about the uncertain future of a proposed bio lab in the heart of cattle country. "Plans to build one of the world's most secure laboratories in the heart of rural America have run into difficulties. The National Bio and Agro defense facility (NBAF) would be the first US lab able to research diseases like foot and mouth in large animals. But reviews have raised worries about virus escapes in the middle of cattle country. For over fifty years the United States has carried out research on dangerous animal diseases at Plum Island, just off the coast of New York. However after 9/11 the Department of Homeland Security raised concerns about the suitability of the location and its vulnerability to terrorist attack."

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105 comments

Safety First (2)

neverwhere9 (2597405) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998157)

The scientists owe it to the people there to reduce the risk of an escaped pathogen by as much as they can. Once they do that, there really shouldn't be anything to complain about--it would just be pure, irrational fear from what I can see.

Manhattan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998181)

Nothing to fear- all precautions have been taken.

Re:Manhattan (1)

flyneye (84093) | about a year and a half ago | (#42000207)

I dunno about that Manhattan/Lawrence is probably the nations breadbasket for LSD, outfreaking San Francisco. Do you really want to chance some government sponsored psychedelic terror? Other than that, they need to put it down by the Mexican border to scare aliens or something. We raise Black Angus here mostly, the most delicious cow. Get your damn priorities straight.
The only thing evident to me is that New York shows every sign of being affected and producing negative mutations/diseases for the years it hosted the facility. Stick it in your own back yard, Yobbo!

Re:Safety First (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998201)

The easiest way to reduce the damage caused by an escaping pathogen is to release it into the wild now. That way if it escapes from the lab later no harm is done.

Re:Safety First (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998279)

The scientists owe it to the people there to reduce the risk of an escaped pathogen by as much as they can. Once they do that, there really shouldn't be anything to complain about--it would just be pure, irrational fear from what I can see.

Arguably, siting the lab in the middle of a giant supply of natural hosts for the pathogens being studied is a massive failure of risk reduction, no matter how many sci-fi airlocks they pencil in...

Re:Safety First (1)

neverwhere9 (2597405) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998425)

I'm sorry. Maybe I'm missing something. I mean, I know it wasn't the wisest area for it, but if the pathogens can't be released, or are at very low risk for doing so, what's the danger? I know if something is released it will spread extremely quickly, but if the proper precautions are taken, how would anything be released? Are they less capable of keeping pathogens in than they're claiming?

Re:Safety First (0)

davester666 (731373) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998523)

Put it in:

Arkansas
Mississippi
Louisiana
Tennessee
Alabama
Kentucky

You'd never be able to tell if the pathogens were released.

Re:Safety First (1)

emho24 (2531820) | about a year and a half ago | (#42001259)

Plumb island and similar research needs to stay where it is, right in the middle of yankee hell.

Re:Safety First (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998595)

Maybe I'm missing something. I mean, I know it wasn't the wisest area for it, but if the pathogens can't be released, or are at very low risk for doing so, what's the danger?

I've highlighted the part that you are missing.

Re:Safety First (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998921)

What they are missing is human error. Happens all the time. One person doesn't follow procedure and BOOM!

Re:Safety First (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42003483)

Which is why the level 4 containment facilities in Atlanta are constantly releasing ebola, smallpox, anthrax, and other lethal human pathogens into the city, killing millions of people.

It happens ALL THE TIME. Except it doesn't. It's VERY, VERY rare when this happens.

Re:Safety First (1)

Cornwallis (1188489) | about a year and a half ago | (#41999873)

Exactly. This is the same gubmint that gave you the entire security theater and you're going to trust them?

Re:Safety First (4, Insightful)

Requiem18th (742389) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998775)

Yes, if the security is perfect then there is no problem. In the same vein, putting it on an island near NY is completely safe as long as NY doesn't get hit by Tsunami or terrorist/millitary attacks. Yet they are speculating about placing it in the middle of the country precisely because you can't expect things to go alrgiht forever.

Part of the question then is, what is more likely? Disseases escaping containment procedures or a cataclysmic event devastating NY? Before 9/11 or Sandy (and I'd wager Sandy is the real kicker here) such pondering would seem the stuff of Science Fiction. But considering this AGW problem is here to stay, you can only expect worse storms to come in the future. Relocating the lab to the iddle of the country seems like a better idea right now.

My question here is, don't you guys have lots and lots of dessertic zones? Just put it there. Or is it packed already with too many secret millitary bases?

Re:Safety First (3, Insightful)

Cassini2 (956052) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998825)

Disease escape is a far more likely failure mode than terrorist attack. Microbes have evolved over millions of years to be easy to spread.

In terms of terrorist attack, New York is on the eastern seaboard not far from Washington DC. A relatively close radius should contain: half of the US Navy's Atlantic fleet, huge amounts of coast guard assets, thousands of FBI agents, and a pretty massive city police presence. No where else in America is safer.

Re:Safety First (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41999551)

In terms of terrorist attack... No where else in America is safer.

Nor more tempting a target.

Re:Safety First (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42000057)

Disease escape is a far more likely failure mode than terrorist attack. Microbes have evolved over millions of years to be easy to spread.

In terms of terrorist attack, New York is on the eastern seaboard not far from Washington DC. A relatively close radius should contain: half of the US Navy's Atlantic fleet, huge amounts of coast guard assets, thousands of FBI agents, and a pretty massive city police presence. No where else in America is safer.

No where else in America exists a larger target.

Naive? No. You have a fucked up view of safety.

Re:Safety First (1)

somersault (912633) | about a year and a half ago | (#42000219)

Sounds like somebody is forgetting 9/11.

Re:Safety First (1)

somersault (912633) | about a year and a half ago | (#42000243)

To clarify - the safest place to be is somewhere that nobody gives a shit about. NY is an obvious terrorist target, and the fact that some people consider it the most secure place in the US would be enough reason to attack it. It might be conventionally safe, but right now perhaps someone is planning some method of attack that was so crazy that nobody else has even considered it, as happened with 9/11.

Re:Safety First (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42018675)

To clarify - the safest place to be is somewhere that nobody gives a shit about.

Which is why if terrorists really want to cause a panic, those are the places they should attack.

Re:Safety First (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42001007)

Brian, are you suggesting that 9/11 didn't change everything? 'Cause 9/11 changed everything, Brian! 9/11 changed everything!

Re:Safety First (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year and a half ago | (#42000685)

These are bio-hazard level 3 and level 4 labs. The same procedures that are used to study diseases like Smallpox and Ebola. Know where else in the US facilities like these exist? Boston, Richmond Virginia, San Antonio Texas, Atlanta Georgia, and Fort Detrick Maryland (less than 50 miles from Washington DC). So, investigating highly contagious, highly lethal diseases in major population centers is ok, but investigating animal diseases with the same precautions in cattle country isn't? This just screams NIMBA or Pork or both.

*CATTLE* Country, my friend -- (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42003837)

These are bio-hazard level 3 and level 4 labs. The same procedures that are used to study diseases like Smallpox and Ebola. Know where else in the US facilities like these exist? Boston, Richmond Virginia, San Antonio Texas, Atlanta Georgia, and Fort Detrick Maryland (less than 50 miles from Washington DC). So, investigating highly contagious, highly lethal diseases in major population centers is ok, but investigating animal diseases with the same precautions in cattle country isn't? This just screams NIMBA or Pork or both.

Hey, now, this is *cattle* country -- they'd be screaming about beef , not that other, vastly inferior, meat product.

:-P

Re:Safety First (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42002827)

From Wikipedia: "When Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, a suspected al-Qaeda member, was arrested in Afghanistan in July 2008, she had in her handbag handwritten notes referring to a "mass casualty attack" that listed various U.S. locations, including the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.[21][22][23][24][25] In February 2010, she was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and attempting to kill U.S. soldiers and FBI agents who were seeking to interrogate her."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plum_Island_Animal_Disease_Center

Re:Safety First (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42000341)

In the same vein what about the lab being hit with a tornado? Just as destructive.

Re:Safety last (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998903)

These labs have a LONG track record of containment failures ?

Recent in both the US and UK.

Re:Safety First (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998971)

Go read Lab 257.

Re:Safety First (1)

neverwhere9 (2597405) | about a year and a half ago | (#41999113)

Read the Wikipedia page. It sounds interesting. It seems like a lot of people dismissed the book, but then they would, wouldn't they? I don't know if this was a sarcastic comment or not, but I'm actually going to check the book out, so thanks!

Re:Safety First (1)

airdweller (1816958) | about a year ago | (#42003091)

If there's anything I learned from books, it's that all proper precautions can be defeated by a single person breaking a single rule and releasing Captain Tripps into the wild.

Re:Safety First (1)

OverlordQ (264228) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998463)

> Arguably, siting the lab in the middle of a giant supply of natural hosts for the pathogens being studied is a massive failure of risk reduction, no matter how many sci-fi airlocks they pencil in...

You know, except for the fact K-State runs a level 3 lab literally right next door to where they'd build this new level 4 lab. In addition Kansas is home to quite a few underground salt caverns that would mitigate the fear of tornadoes.

Re:Safety First (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998563)

You mean like the CDC in Atlanta?

Re:Safety First (3, Funny)

Sulphur (1548251) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998989)

The scientists owe it to the people there to reduce the risk of an escaped pathogen by as much as they can. Once they do that, there really shouldn't be anything to complain about--it would just be pure, irrational fear from what I can see.

Arguably, siting the lab in the middle of a giant supply of natural hosts for the pathogens being studied is a massive failure of risk reduction, no matter how many sci-fi airlocks they pencil in...

What if terrorists bring erasers and pencil them out.

Re:Safety First (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42000029)

The scientists owe it to the people there to reduce the risk of an escaped pathogen by as much as they can. Once they do that, there really shouldn't be anything to complain about--it would just be pure, irrational fear from what I can see.

Arguably, siting the lab in the middle of a giant supply of natural hosts for the pathogens being studied is a massive failure of risk reduction, no matter how many sci-fi airlocks they pencil in...

Arguably, they're building a lab to study the effects of diseases....on natural hosts. Can be rather challenging to run an animal lab without any animals.

Re:Safety First (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42000449)

CDC in down town Atlanta.
Level 4 biohazard lab in the middle of 9-10million people.
Just sayin

Re:Safety First (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998949)

Yeah, like around Plumb Island, where Lyme disease was discovered, and there are suspicions of other diseases being released accidentally (but perhaps deliberately). So I'd say that fear of an escaped pathogen wouldn't be irrational.

Eliminate Risk (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42000303)

We can completely eliminate the risk of an escaped pathogen by not doing any research. The progerssive anti-science outcry is just as stupid as the right-wing anti-science outcry.

Re:Safety First (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42000437)

The CDC has a Biohazard Level 4 lab in the middle of downtown Atlanta, one of the biggest sprawlingest metro cities in the country (ATL itself only has ~1mil people population...but the entire metro and all the people that work there comes to around 9m, and thus is why ATL traffic suck so damn bad; ATL is the biggest city without a real, modern, metro system, and it desperately needs one..so glad I moved..but im getting off topic). Point is: its scary as hell to have such a thing in the middle of so many people. Likewise, its scary as hell to ranchers to have some one researching MCD in the middle of prime cow country.

But in the end its still just an engineering problem. You do what you can, and we're actually pretty good at making these Level 4 labs.

And if somethng shoudl go wrong, you just set off the nuke in the basement.
(Oh sure, they deny its there....but we know....we know....)

Posse commitatus (1)

hoboroadie (1726896) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998159)

I'm sure that security is better where God and the County Sheriff are packing.

Re:Posse commitatus (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998359)

I'm sure that security is better where God and the County Sheriff are packing.

Even a rather large virus will spatter like an overripe melon if hit with a mere .000012 caliber round. The real trick is in the aiming...

Build it right where it can infect the most? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998167)

THAT... sounds completely stupid. i'd want to put something like this somewhere it CAN'T do any harm if it gets out...
The arctic sounds nice.

I also kind of wonder what kind of nasty stuff got washed out of plum island in the hurricane. There's some fairly scary storys about that place. Oh sure most is prolly overblown bullcrap. But it only takes a little truth to kill a whole bunch of people... :(

Re:Build it right where it can infect the most? (1)

lunatick (32698) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998235)

Actually nothing, The place has survived much worse hurricanes (1978 and 1984) during my lifetime.

Containment is fine, security is the issue. (0)

FSWKU (551325) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998193)

I'm not worried about some virus spontaneously escaping into the wild. What I'm concerned about is a bunch of militant "animal rights" nitwits getting in and "liberating" diseased animals, causing all kinds of hell.

"Free the animals, man!"

"That's probably not a good idea given their condition."

"Screw you, OPPRESSOR!"


*frees diseased animals anyway*

Yes, that's the exact thing that happened in 28 Days Later. Yes, I can see that actually happening. All it takes is a bunch of ill-informed, militant, bongo-beating idiots to cause problems. So security in this place should be "No badge, or it doesn't match the access list? Escorted away at gunpoint. ANY resistance? Bullet to the head."

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998261)

that's dumb, solid ingress egress control (double doors can't open both ends at once) is really all that is needed

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998665)

Yes, surely no one will ever become complacent after working there for a long time.

Many biological safety and containment protocols are regularly disregarded at least in part because scientists think that their own lower assessment of the risk is more accurate than the "bureaucrats" who designed the protocols. Dealing with the lab moron(s) in BSL-2 is a pain. Dealing with them in BSL-4 is potentially deadly.

Stupidity finds a way. That's why designs must be as foolproof as possible.

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (3, Interesting)

flonker (526111) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998993)

I've heard that one of the more difficult aspects of working in a level 4 lab is learning not to catch things that are falling, such as scalpels, and that when the scientists go home after work, they don't catch tableware and glasses and such, leading to much domestic strife.

(I don't know how true it is, but it seems to make sense.)

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about a year ago | (#42003217)

double doors controlled by security team, swipe badges security guard opens inner door.

keeps morons out, and if morons manage to subvert security and let animals loose, the animals can't get out

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998357)

"28 Days Later"

Kids [wikipedia.org]... Always with the zombies

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998947)

Now with blood lusty cows. Fortunately as the zombie cows eat the brains of people it will be only a matter of time when we give them the mad human disease.

Activists have killed healthy animals ... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998483)

What I'm concerned about is a bunch of militant "animal rights" nitwits getting in and "liberating" diseased animals, causing all kinds of hell.

The University that I attended had a large agriculture department. They had a bunch of caged chickens. Healthy but caged. Activists freed them and the chickens soon started to die. Apparently living in cages with wire bottoms suspended a few feet off the ground did not prepare their immune systems for what waited on the ground below. They all got sick and most died.

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (2)

Sulphur (1548251) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998925)

I'm not worried about some virus spontaneously escaping into the wild. What I'm concerned about is a bunch of militant "animal rights" nitwits getting in and "liberating" diseased animals, causing all kinds of hell.

"Free the animals, man!"

Hell is a liberal animal.

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41999027)

I'm not worried about some virus spontaneously escaping into the wild.

You should be, it's happened before. The most likeliest explanation for lyme disease is accidental release from Plum Island, carried away on ticks by migrating deer.

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42000949)

That isn't a very well accepted account of where the disease came from, considering that descriptions of Lyme's disease in the US goes back to the 18th century. Changing patterns and mostly lost of forests in the northeast made such things virtually unseen in the early 20th century, Early cases of skin lesions were see in Wisconsin and Minnesota areas from the same bacterium were seen years before the cases in Connecticut it was named after, and only well identified because the doctor happened to have read up on European research. Lyme disease might not even have been researched at Plum Island (there was a book that claimed several diseases spread from there with little to no evidence those diseases were actually researched there, unlike other secret biological weapons research that had a lot of surviving documentation, and I don't remember which ones were baseless versus having a bit of evidence). It probably doesn't help that Lyme's disease is a controversial enough topic due to disagreement over treatment, leading to threats and attacks against scientists researching the disease as is...

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42001099)

I wasn't aware of Plum Island until I met someone last year whose son had contracted Lyme disease from one of the towns adjacent to Lyme (which is situated on the mainland directly across from plum island). There's a good episode of Jesse Ventura's Conspiracy Theory which can be viewed on youtube about Plum Island. In it, they give the back story of how the "godfather of Plum island" was a nazi scientist under Himmler who had come to the states under Project Paperclip. One of his primary focuses while under the third reich was studies on spreading diseases to humans via mosquitos and ticks (lyme disease is spread to humans by deer ticks). In that episode they also reveal that in 2005 someone had uncovered federal documents which list lyme disease as one of the primary viruses being studied on plum island:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC1gV_6aSIA

The OP post is incorrect about the new facility being the first in the US to study foot and mouth disease on large animals. The government's own website on Plum Island clearly shows a photo of a steer with a caption explaining that the scientists are injecting it with foot and mouth disease:
http://www.ars.usda.gov/plum/research.htm

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (1)

Americano (920576) | about a year ago | (#42002047)

And were these magical, space-time traveling deer, as well? Able to go back hundreds of years in time, and reappear on an island off the coast of Scotland [wikipedia.org]?

Perhaps the first detailed description of what is now known as Lyme disease appeared in the writings of Reverend Dr John Walker after a visit to the Island of Jura (Deer Island) off the west coast of Scotland in 1764. He gives a good description both of the symptoms of Lyme disease (with "exquisite pain [in] the interior parts of the limbs") and of the tick vector itself, which he describes as a "worm" with a body which is "of a reddish colour and of a compressed shape with a row of feet on each side" that "penetrates the skin". Many people from this area of Great Britain immigrated to North America between 1717 and the end of the 18th century. The examination of preserved museum specimens has found Borrelia DNA in an infected Ixodes ricinus tick from Germany that dates back to 1884, and from an infected mouse from Cape Cod that died in 1894. The 2010 autopsy of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300 year old mummy, revealed the presence of the DNA sequence of Borrelia burgdorferi making him the earliest known human with Lyme disease.

I guess you're right - this is just more evidence of conspiracy! Who else but the US government would have the resources to genetically engineer time traveling deer and send them back in time to Scotland? It's probably a neocon plot - adding up each of the digits in '1764' gives you '18.' Add up those digits, and you get '9' - as in 9-11!? And you think this is coincidence, people?

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42002787)

Perhaps AK Marc meant to say, "the most likely explanation for the origins of the lyme disease outbreak in the US is accidental release from Plum Island". The plum island facility has had accidental releases of viruses in the past:
http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/government-admits-accidents-plum-island-biolab

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (1)

Americano (920576) | about a year ago | (#42003307)

I think even that is a pretty significant stretch with nothing but speculation to support it. The disease was already known before Plum island was even a twinkle in Uncle Sam's eye. The most likely explanation for the incidence of Lyme disease would be that the tick and its parasites came across the Atlantic with colonists from Europe (where the disease was fairly well known), established a foothold, and has been present and spreading since.

The fact that a cluster of cases in 1975 around Lyme, Connecticut happened to be near Plum Island is far from conclusive proof that Plum Island was the source of that (or subsequent, or any) outbreaks. It is statistically possible that ticks being studied at Plum Island somehow escaped and made their way to Lyme... but the ticks and their parasites were already present in Lyme (and elsewhere), and there's no suggestion that the cluster in Lyme was some sort of "genetically engineered superbug" - it was just a normal outbreak of a disease which has been emerging in clusters around the US for decades.

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year ago | (#42014039)

Diseases don't spontaneously jump thousands of miles. Also many dispute the assertion of past diseases being the same as current versions. Was the strain from hundreds of years ago the same strain (or even the same disease)? And even if it was, the US outbreak had to have come from somewhere. And if it was transported here from abroad, then it would likely have been closer to a shipping port or international airport. It's more likely it was an accidental release from a location that was studying it adjacent to the outbreak area than any other explanation presented to date. This is one case where Occam's Razor favors the conspiracy theory".

the ticks and their parasites were already present in Lyme

Then why wasn't there a documented outbreak in Lyme before that?

Re:Containment is fine, security is the issue. (1)

Americano (920576) | about a year ago | (#42043267)

Diseases don't spontaneously jump thousands of miles

Nobody's claimed they did. It's a zoonotic infection, and it's VERY common for diseases like that to circulate in their animal reservoirs (mice & deer, in this case), until conditions line up just right for an outbreak. In this case, the tick that transmits it feeds on blood three times in its life, once for each phase. This means a tick, in order to infect someone, has to first feed on a mouse or a deer infected with the bacteria, and THEN feed on a human during a subsequent phase. Conditions have to line up properly for that to happen, and even being bitten by a tick, it generally requires a significant amount of undisturbed feeding time to transmit the disease - it's not a case where infection occurs the INSTANT a person is bitten - this is why tick checks are important, and effective, in reducing the likelihood of infection.

The genetic material from the North American strain of bacteria that causes Lyme disease has been found in museum specimens dating back to the 1800's, and according to Wikipedia, they found B. burgdorferi DNA in a 5300 year old mummified ice age hunter. There's a lot of evidence that the pathogen has been around for centuries.

Also many dispute the assertion of past diseases being the same as current versions.

Then surely you can provide us with some examples of scientists disputing this?

And even if it was, the US outbreak had to have come from somewhere.

Yes, it came from the natural animal reservoirs for the disease - mice and deer. As human developments encroach on woodlands and pastures where these animals live, more humans come in contact with the animals (and, as a result, their parasitic passengers). This is exactly how most zoonotic infections break out. A pathogen whose DNA has been found on hundreds and thousands of year old museum samples cannot have been "manufactured" exclusively at Plum Island in 1975.

Also - how could Plum Island have been "studying Lyme Disease" in 1975, when Lyme Disease was not identified as a tick-borne illness, with a bacterial cause isolated, until 1982? (Do you see how the sequence of these things is sort of important?)

And if it was transported here from abroad, then it would likely have been closer to a shipping port or international airport.

Researchers in Europe had seen numerous cases of "neurological problems after tick bites," and erythema migrans - the expanding "bullseye" lesion that is a hallmark of the disease - long before any outbreaks in 1975 in Connecticut. They didn't isolate the pathogen until 1982, but they were describing the disease and its components for decades:

Before 1976, elements of B. burgdorferi sensu lato infection were called or known as tick-borne meningopolyneuritis, Garin-Bujadoux syndrome, Bannwarth syndrome, Afzelius' disease, Montauk Knee or sheep tick fever. Since 1976 the disease is most often referred to as Lyme disease, Lyme borreliosis or simply borreliosis.

It's a vector borne disease - you can't pass it from human to human during normal contact, it requires the tick vector, and so it's quite easy to imagine that some infected mice were carried over into new england at some point (perhaps even as far back as the 1600's and 1700's colonization), and those mice found a welcoming habitat here in North America, where they began to spread, and the disease happily circulated in them as a reservoir for years, with cases of all of these syndromes cropping up over time but not being recognized as related to tick bites until the cases in Lyme, where researches connected the neurological issues with the erythema migrans they saw in their patients, and related it to the disease being described by their colleagues in Europe.

This is one case where Occam's Razor favors the conspiracy theory".

So you think that occam's razor favors time traveling deer & mice, released from a government lab, into the wild in Europe and the Americas thousands of years ago? Remember:

1) B. burgdorferi wasn't isolated as the cause of Lyme until 1982;
2) Yet somehow, the US government was working on Lyme disease in 1975, and genetically engineering a super strain of the bacteria that wouldn't be isolated for 7 years;
3) And B. burgdorferi DNA appears in samples of ticks and humans and mice that are hundreds or thousands of years old;
4) And Lyme has been described on numerous occasions by numerous physicians all over Europe and North America over the last hundred year, with varying "syndrome" names until they isolated the causative agent and realized all of the symptoms they were seeing were related;

For the conspiracy theory to be true, the mice would have to be time travelers, and every case of the disease described in medical literature over hundreds of years would have to be some sort of grand coverup. No, I'm sorry, Occam's Razor does NOT support the conspiracy theory as the "most likely" explanation.

Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (5, Interesting)

lunatick (32698) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998217)

I know people that work on plum island. They say that the place will be open till at least 2021. The decision to move it was purely political. At the time the local governments did not want a level 4 facility on the island, Once it was announced that the research would be moved to Kansas they recanted. There has also been much discussion about the wisdom of moving it to the middle of tornado alley and cattle country. Terrorism has had little effect on the decision, an island makes it very easy to control who comes and goes as compared to a facility reachable by foot. It would not surprise me to see them upgrade Plum island and cancel the project in Kansas, on the other hand it is up to the usual political backroom deals.

Re:Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (3, Insightful)

peragrin (659227) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998301)

um tornado alley is easily prepared for. Just build the actual labs underground.

just like Umbrella and look how well that turned out.

oh

Re:Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41999401)

Posting anonymously coz I just modded that up.

Actually, the Umbrella Corp example is perfect for how well it turned out...the outbreak was contained within the lab. If it wasn't for the military team going in and out, the scientists and the megalomaniacs in charge, there would not have been a pentalogy.

So those latter parts remain common ;-)

Re:Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998367)

Amen. I've been saying for years -- since I heard about the plan -- that moving the facility there was just about the most goddamned stupid thing that could possibly be done. Plum Island is almost perfectly situated for a containment facility. The fact that it's an island means that most critters won't get off of it, so you don't have to worry about a lab rat getting out and spreading it all over. Also, if a breakout did happen, and it -did- come over to Long Island, it would likely progress from east to west and allow a chance to stop the spread before it could get to the mainland.

Sure, it's inconvenient and expensive to run. But it's a vital matter -- for both national security and for our economy -- that such a facility be as isolated as possible, so it's money well spent.

Re:Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998557)

... so you don't have to worry about a lab rat getting out and spreading it all over ...

Rats may not be the best species to refer to in this context. They are notorious for their ability to travel on boats and spread disease.

Re:Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (1)

lunatick (32698) | about a year and a half ago | (#42001445)

Actually they don't study anything that can be transmitted by rat, They study diseases that effect agriculture (cows, horses, pigs etc...) with the exception of avian diseases.

If there were a lack of containment there is little on Long Island that would be infected as there are few if any cattle ranches there. The deer population would take a hit as would horses, but there are no ranches so to speak of. Kansas on the other hand has plenty of such and an outbreak could devastate the economy. Again this is the reason for it being on an island in the first place. If a deer gets on plum island it is killed to prevent any possibility of the spread of disease. How are you going to control that in an land locked area?

Re:Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (1)

Americano (920576) | about a year ago | (#42003611)

Deer and cattle typically have difficulty hopping electrified razorwire-topped fences. Do you think this is going to be some sort of Little House On the Prairie farmstead, where the scientists just tell the cows, "Okay, now don't go past this river or that hilltop. We trust you!"?

They study dozens of highly infectious, highly lethal diseases at the CDC facilities in Atlanta. Right in the middle of millions of people, who are certainly good hosts for hemorrhagic fevers, smallpox, and the like. Yet we don't read about constant outbreaks of those diseases killing thousands of people.

It is possible to research such diseases safely, even in the midst of a large number of natural hosts for that disease. We do it today, and we do it successfully. There is an obvious need to take precautions, but the argument that "they won't be able to contain things here" flies in the face of the experience of actual labs operating successfully for years.

Re:Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (1)

NotSanguine (1917456) | about a year and a half ago | (#41999877)

Amen. I've been saying for years -- since I heard about the plan -- that moving the facility there was just about the most goddamned stupid thing that could possibly be done. Plum Island is almost perfectly situated for a containment facility. The fact that it's an island means that most critters won't get off of it, so you don't have to worry about a lab rat getting out and spreading it all over. Also, if a breakout did happen, and it -did- come over to Long Island, it would likely progress from east to west and allow a chance to stop the spread before it could get to the mainland.

Sounds like a perfect use for Gitmo. You even have captive humans to test on. And if anything gets out, it's Raul Castro's problem not ours. Just sayin'.

Re:Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998733)

Terrorism has had little effect on the decision, an island makes it very easy to control who comes and goes as compared to a facility reachable by foot.

Add free-range dinosaurs to the mix and I'm sold. Anyone stupid enough to smuggle biohazards off the island will be eaten. This approach proved quite effective on Isla Nublar.

Re:Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41999297)

There has also been much discussion about the wisdom of moving it to the middle of tornado alley and cattle country.

There should also be much question to having it in on an *island* that just got hit by two hurricanes in the last year.

Re:Plum Island ain't closing anytime soon. (1)

lunatick (32698) | about a year and a half ago | (#42001351)

Technically they were both downgraded to tropical storms before they hit Long Island. Long Island hasn't had an actual Hurricane since Gloria in 1985.

Sabre-Toothed Bunny Alert! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998221)

    Plum Island was not the only place where such research was done. There was this little Lab in the hills above Berkeley... (BTW, not LBL, although there was close collaboration.)

Put it in Alabama. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998271)

Nobody wants to live there anyway, especially during August.

If you feel a need, evacuate the rest of the state.

meanwhile, a BSL-4 facility smack in Boston= AOK (2)

SuperBanana (662181) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998369)

Meanwhile, everyone's been ramming through a BSL-4 facility which will study live human diseases, right smack in the middle of Boston:

http://www.wbur.org/2012/04/19/biolab-research-approval [wbur.org]

They picked a poor minority neighborhood they and city officials could bully around, and despite public uproar, soon residents can look forward to being neighbors with Ebola.

Apparently BU just couldn't be bothered to build it, say, out somewhere in the suburbs where there'd be some isolation from the general populace. Let's put it right smack in the middle of a city with a big public transit system and an international airport, just so our researchers won't have to hop in a car for a drive. BRILLIANT.

Re:meanwhile, a BSL-4 facility smack in Boston= AO (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998413)

Man, good thing the CDC doesn't have a BSL4 lab in Atlanta, where they're headquartered. Oh, wait.

Re:meanwhile, a BSL-4 facility smack in Boston= AO (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998433)

People choose to live in cities so they can be in the center of things. They'll get their wish. If BU tried to put a lab like this in the suburb where I live, I can guarantee that the townies would demolish it before a single test tube was brought in. City people are assholes. Let 'em die.

Above the arctic circle maybe? (1)

mikeiver1 (1630021) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998465)

There is no place more isolated than the arctic. We have had bases there in the past, one even had a sub reactor to power it. Considering the fact that the environment is very much not in tune with the needs of any escaped pathogens I would say that it is just about the best choice. It would be hard to access and harder to enter. Get down under the rock and you are safe and contained with no vectors of escape of the bugs. It is a far better choice than the bread basket of the USA and allot of the world. Mike

Re:Above the arctic circle maybe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998601)

"allot"... "allot"...

Really???

Re:Above the arctic circle maybe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41999549)

Give the guy a break. His right hemisphere pushed "all of the world" while his left pushed "a lot of the world". Brain got stuck in neutral, brain-to-finger translation error resulted.

Re:Above the arctic circle maybe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998867)

One of the many strange thing about us scientists is that we'd like to be able to work in a place somewhat near where we live, and that where we live we'd like to be able to do things like go and eat at a decent restaurant, live in a decent apartment or house, have access to decent schools for our children, and live in a climate where we're neither freezing to death nor fried to a crisp. So it should come to no surprise that ZERO level III or IV biohazard facilities are located on remote islands, in the middle of the desert, or in the arctic.

Oh, it's a surprise that SCIENTISTS ARE PEOPLE WITH FUCKING HUMAN NEEDS? Well fuck you up the ass with a goddamn railroad tie. Covered in railroad spikes. And razor wire. Coated in AIDS. And mutant lab rats. And radioactive compounds. And it's fucking on fire.

Re:Above the arctic circle maybe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41999453)

Oh, it's a surprise that SCIENTISTS ARE PEOPLE WITH FUCKING HUMAN NEEDS? Well fuck you up the ass with a goddamn railroad tie. Covered in railroad spikes. And razor wire. Coated in AIDS. And mutant lab rats. And radioactive compounds. And it's fucking on fire.

This is why we're concerned.... because people like you are the ones handling this stuff, can you see our hesitation to put them in the middle of population centres?

Re:Above the arctic circle maybe? (2)

NotSanguine (1917456) | about a year and a half ago | (#41999885)

Oh, it's a surprise that SCIENTISTS ARE PEOPLE WITH FUCKING HUMAN NEEDS? Well fuck you up the ass with a goddamn railroad tie. Covered in railroad spikes. And razor wire. Coated in AIDS. And mutant lab rats. And radioactive compounds. And it's fucking on fire.

Don't hold back AC. Tell us how you *really* feel!

Re:Above the arctic circle maybe? (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998963)

There is no place more isolated than the arctic. We have had bases there in the past, one even had a sub reactor to power it. Considering the fact that the environment is very much not in tune with the needs of any escaped pathogens I would say that it is just about the best choice. It would be hard to access and harder to enter. Get down under the rock and you are safe and contained with no vectors of escape of the bugs. It is a far better choice than the bread basket of the USA and allot of the world.

Mike

Thule?

Plum island gave us West Nile Virus in the US (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998529)

Plum island is the reason West Nile Virus exists in the United States. It started in Long Island sound, right next to Plum island.

Re:Plum island gave us West Nile Virus in the US (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41998721)

I thought the first outbreak was in Queens, not right next to Plum Island. Considering West Nile Virus has virtually no symptoms in 80% of the people it infects, and was well spread in parts of Asian, Australia and western Europe by the 60s (not to mention Africa where it came from, where in the 50s it was found 90% of people tested in Egypt had West Nile Virus antibodies), it is kind of surprising it took another 30 years to get to the US.

Re:Plum island gave us West Nile Virus in the US (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41999085)

Queens is on Long Island, and a number of Plum Island workers lived near NYC and commuted (with the ferry schedules and dorms on site, you didn't have to go home every night, for commuting the full length of long island).

And at Plum island they weaponized them, even though it was a non-military FDA site. Their excuse was that they needed to weaponise them to be able to defend our livestock against them.

Re:Plum island gave us West Nile Virus in the US (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41999249)

I figured it would be obvious Queens is on Long Island, as opposed to potentially misleading "Long Island Sound,right next to Plum island" when it was about 80 miles away on the opposite end of Long Island. Even if they get a lot of workers from Plum Island, they would also be getting a lot of travelers too. I had not heard of any US attempts at weaponizing West Nile Virus (outside of chem trail conspiracy theories), and had always seen it referred to as something the Soviets considered briefly and some scares that Iraq tried in the 90s.

Re:Plum island gave us West Nile Virus in the US (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year ago | (#42014159)

I figured it would be obvious Queens is on Long Island,

Americans can't identify most states on a map, to assume everyone knows where boroughs of NYC are would seem to be an overestimation of general geographic knowledge.

Even if they get a lot of workers from Plum Island, they would also be getting a lot of travelers too.

It's not like there are any international airports in Queens.

But, given that the first major outbreak of Lyme disease in the US was geographically adjacent to Plum (far from airports), and Plum was studying it before release, it seems likely that there was at least one major containment breach, indicating the likelihood of another is much higher.

for the record (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about a year and a half ago | (#41998863)

For the record, there's a massive human disease lab located right in the middle of tornado alley. Oklahoma if I'm not mistaken.
By the way, it's more fun if you read the article title as High Security Animal, Disease Lab Faces Uncertain Future.
Gotta watch out for those high security animals, lol.

Plum Island Lab Failures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41999269)

The Plum Island laboratory has been run terribly in the past. There have been outdoor experiments on animals with communicable diseases, unrepaired holes in the roof, an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease (only in the US) from there which they admitted came from the lab, transfers of dangerous virus samples by car on busy highways against federal law[1], unlocked buildings with unlocked freezers holding samples to be transported, etc...

The first identified case of Lyme disease was within miles of Plum Island and spread from there. Research of similar viruses were going on at the time on the island. The first case of West Nile found in the US was within miles of Plum Island and spread across the US in the following few years. Encephalitis research was being done on Plum Island.

See the book "Lab 257" for details. http://www.amazon.com/Lab-257-Disturbing-Governments-Laboratory/dp/0060011416

This lab should be shut down, not relocated inland!

[1] Once a fatal accident of a courier left a virus package on the highway embankment until a fellow employee spotted it and retrieved it.

Re:Plum Island Lab Failures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42000687)

The book Lab 257 has been found to have a lot of baseless accusations and claims of research at the lab that have no evidence to back the claims up. This is not to say that things haven't been screwed up there, just that the book is a bad source for information about the lab.

It is damn near on campus (3, Interesting)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year and a half ago | (#42000275)

This nearly literal pork-barrel facility (which is already built, BTW) is about a quarter mile up the street of the main campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. It is however, within eyesight of the a) football stadium, b) basketball coliseum, and c) student recreational center. Bonus: just to the west of all of that is the only hospital in the city. Not that animal diseases *ever* jump to humans...

This was all mainly due to one of the worst US Senators in the modern age: Pat Roberts. His other claim to fame was putting off the investigations of the Iraq invasion lies until after the elections to 'take politics out of it'. After the election, he then claimed there was no point in investigating the lies as the past is the past, spilt milk, etc. Scumbag.

Mistakes will be made (1)

Agent0013 (828350) | about a year and a half ago | (#42000735)

I think it is a stupid idea to place this where there will be lots of damage when things get out. And they will get out. Just like it is impossible to have code with zero bugs, it is impossible there will be no mistakes.

Does anyone else remember this report about the air flow being redirected from inside the lab to the hallway outside where people don't wear protective gear? Bad Air Vents [preppercentral.com]

In February, air from inside a potentially contaminated lab briefly blew outward into a “clean” corridor where a group of visitors weren’t wearing any protective gear which raised concern about exposure risks, according to e-mails reporting and discussing what happened. Research animals in the lab had not yet been infected at the time of the incident, the records say.

Always wondered about security there (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42000847)

I take the Cross Sound Ferry (https://www.longislandferry.com/default.aspx) to New London, CT a few times a year. I'm always amazed at the ferry's proximity to Plum Island as we leave Orient Point, Long Island. On the CT side, I'm always amazed at the proximity to General Dynamics/EB's facility right in the harbor. Just on my last trip, we cruising within 500 feet of a nuclear submarine. From what I can see, there's no security, but then again, I have no idea what I can't see, and I imagine there is where all of the security is.

Plum Island, Lyme, and Nazis (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42001111)

The OP post is incorrect about the new facility being the first in the US to study foot and mouth disease on large animals. The government's own website on Plum Island clearly shows a photo of a steer with a caption explaining that the scientists are injecting it with foot and mouth disease:
http://www.ars.usda.gov/plum/research.htm

I wasn't aware of Plum Island until I met someone last year whose son had contracted Lyme disease from one of the towns adjacent to Lyme (which is situated on the mainland directly across from plum island). There's a good episode of Jesse Ventura's Conspiracy Theory which can be viewed on youtube about Plum Island. In it, they give the back story of how the "godfather of Plum island" was a nazi scientist under Himmler who had come to the states under Project Paperclip. One of his primary focuses while under the third reich was studies on spreading diseases to humans via mosquitos and ticks (lyme disease is spread to humans by deer ticks). In that episode they also reveal that in 2005 someone had uncovered federal documents which list lyme disease as one of the primary viruses being studied on plum island:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC1gV_6aSIA

Plum Island vs. Kansas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42002951)

There has NEVER been a facility that handles foot and mouth disease virus that has not had an outbreak. The most recent FMD outbreak in the United Kingdom was due to its high-security lab. Plum Island has also had a containment failure, but, because it was an island, it was able to be contained and the US didn't lose its FMD-free status. The same is HIGHLY unlikely to happen in Kansas.

I took a course at Plum Island a few years ago, and the place is amazing. If they are worried about terrorists, they should add armed guards to the current facility, or build a new facility on the island, rather than trying to defend a place that's 2 miles down the road from a veterinary school and in the heart of American cattle country.

The Kansas facility reeks of politics over science.

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