Escape from the Lab

Calves in Kansas: Kansas is home to 10% of the nation"s cattle, one of the reasons it may be dangerous to site an animal pathogen lab there.© Richardson Cattle Company

Fears are mounting that a lab being built to study dangerous animal diseases could potentially act as a launching point for the spread of those pathogens. A report from the National Research Council—affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences—looked at plans for a $451 million National Bio- And Agro-Defense Facility to be located on the north side of the Kansas State University campus, and found that adequate protections were not in place to avoid pathogen escape. In fact, reports the AP, the council found that "there is a 70% chance a pathogen could be released from the lab within 50 years, and that it could cause up to $50 billion in damages."

A major part of the facility’s perceived danger comes from where it would be sited—within 200 miles of more than 9 million cattle (10% of the nation’s total) along with substantial swine and meatpacking plants, and nearby a popular football stadium. Either outlet is seen as having potential for carrying and transporting disease—whether such disease, upon inadvertent release from the facility, passes from human to human or animal to animal.

The lab would study foot-and-mouth and other debilitating animal diseases, and the report noted that U.S. Homeland Security did not adequately explain how it would recognize if such pathogens were released; and how, if it discovered such releases, it planned to contain them.

SOURCE: Businessweek.