The government acknowledged that an outbreak of one of the most contagious animal diseases from any of five locations being considered for a new high-security laboratory – an event it considered highly unlikely – would be more devastating to the U.S. economy than an outbreak from the isolated island lab where such research is now conducted.
The 1,005-page Homeland Security Department study, released Friday, calculated that economic losses in an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease could surpass $4 billion if the lab were built near livestock herds in Kansas or Texas, two options the Bush administration is considering. That would be roughly $1 billion higher than the government's estimate of losses blamed on a hypothetical outbreak from its existing laboratory on Plum Island, N.Y.
The administration is studying the safest place to move its research on such dangerous pathogens from Plum Island to the U.S. mainland near herds of livestock, raising concerns about a catastrophic outbreak. A final choice is expected by late fall. The foot-and-mouth virus does not infect humans but could devastate herds of cattle, swine, lambs and sheep.
[...] The new National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility would replace the existing 24-acre research complex on Plum Island, which is about 100 miles northeast of New York City in the Long Island Sound. Besides foot-and-mouth disease, researchers also would study African swine fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever and the Hendra and Nipah viruses. Construction would begin in 2010 and take four years.
Call me crazy, but if you're looking for a place to build a facility where you're going to be studying highly contagious animal diseases, it seems to me that you wouldn't want to build it in close proximity to a bunch of livestock. The risk level of an actual outbreak is said to be low, but if an outbreak did occur, the consequences could be devastating. And we live in an age where terrorist attack is always a possibility, so why take such a chance if it's not necessary? Here's an example of the kind of disaster that the Bush administration is flirting with:
A simulated outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease – part of an earlier U.S. government exercise called "Crimson Sky" – ended with fictional riots in the streets after the simulation's National Guardsmen were ordered to kill tens of millions of farm animals, so many that troops ran out of bullets. In the exercise, the government said it would have been forced to dig a ditch in Kansas 25 miles long to bury carcasses.
Economic concerns appear to be the driving factor behind the push to relocate this facility. I'm all for the government saving a little money, but is whatever savings we get by moving this facilty really worth assuming the risk involved?