Plan to move biodefense lab to Kansas making little progress

A plan to place the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas, has made little progress since the decision was made in 2008 to replace an aging biological defense laboratory.

Government officials decided in 2008 that they would replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center located off the cost of Long Island, New York, with the new Kansas facility. Budgetary issues and concerns of releasing a pathogen into the local livestock population delayed the process, AllGov reports.

A 2010 report by the National Research Council found that over the 50-year life span of a new laboratory, there would be a 70 percent chance that a pathogen would be accidentally released. Subsequent reviews reduced the risk to 0.11 percent but were criticized as technically inadequate.

"There's no such thing as zero risk, we get up every morning and there's risk to rolling out of bed," Scott Rusk, an adviser on the NBAF project, said, according to BBC. "I think that the technology that is applied to biocontainment makes these facilities safe to put anywhere. We do this type of work all over the country with pathogens that are deadly to people. The risk to the agricultural community is minimal. We don't need to have a moat around a facility anymore."

Non-supporters of the facility contend that placing the facility in a major livestock area like Kansas could lead to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease or another dangerous pathogen.

"I think Kansas is the wrong place for it," Tom Manney, a former chair of the Kansas State University biosafety committee, said, according to BBC. "It's best to be offshore. There have been incidents at Plum Island, they've had releases of foot-and-mouth disease but they were confined to the island and therefore they didn't trigger the embargoes that accompany such events."

Safety concerns pushed the cost of the proposed facility above $1 billion. President Obama did not include money for the facility in his proposed budget for 2013, which could delay the opening of the facility to 2020 or later, BBC reports.