Panel says no to Plum Island lab; Kansas center could be scaled back

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | A bird’s eye view of Plum Island.

Plans for a new bio- and agro-defense laboratory in Manhattan, Kan., which is proposed to replace the Plum Island center off Orient Point, can be scaled back, according to the National Research Council, which had been contracted by the Department of Homeland Security to review the country’s animal disease threats.

At the same time, the council recommended against continuing research at Plum Island into diseases that could threaten American livestock.

The group’s report, issued last week, weighed three options: keeping the lab at Plum Island, scaling back the Kansas plans or continuing with the proposed $1 billion Kansas laboratory.

The group rejected the idea of maintaining the Plum Island facility, but did not issue a declaration regarding which of the two Kansas proposals was more attractive. The council did say plans for the Kansas lab could be scaled back because it could mean a potential duplication of resources in agro-defense research.

Congress has yet to provide construction funding for the Kansas project. President Obama included no money for the lab in his draft 2013 federal budget, released earlier this year.

Assessing the potential risks of a facility in Kansas, the Department of Homeland Security has said there’s a 70 percent chance of an accidental release of the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease virus, which could lead to an economic loss of $50 billion.

There have been no foot-and-mouth outbreaks in American livestock since 1929.

The National Research Council told Congress the risks and economic losses could be “significantly higher.”

If it goes forward, the new facility would be constructed near Kansas State University’s football stadium.