Budget cuts put St. Louis region at bioterror risk

Experts in the St. Louis region are concerned that federal budget cuts to anti-bioterror programs may make the area vulnerable to attack.

In the drive to reduce the nation’s debt, local planners fear that the loss of federal support may mean the degrading of programs like BioWatch, which monitors for airborne pathogens at undisclosed sites, or St. Louis County’s Bio-Defense Network, which supports the distribution of countermeasures to 650,000 local residents, according to StLToday.com.

The Urban Area Security Initiative Grant, the region’s main federal source of bioterrorism funding, was cut by 30 percent this year, and planners fear that the Department of Homeland Security grant might disappear altogether should proposed cuts go through.

"It's going to affect us drastically," Nick Gragnani said, StLToday.com reports. Gragnani is the executive director of the St. Louis Area Regional Response System, which was established in 2003 to handle critical emergency incidents, such as a terrorist attack.

St. Louis is lucky in some ways to have received $5.9 million in federal money this year for its anti-bioterror operations. A total of 33 other metropolitan areas were excluded altogether in an effort to base funding on new risk criteria. The U.S. House has proposed further cuts.

Gragnani said that the federal money has helped to build a system that relies on collaboration between interests and worries about its removal.

"It knocked down the stovepipes and individual fiefdoms out there so everybody would not be responding individually," Gragnani said, StLToday.com reports. "If the funding goes away, the concern is that everybody returns to the way it was."