List narrows for possible homes for research facility

Plum Island to be refurbished as site search continues
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The Department of Homeland Security recently identified several potential sites for the government's National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

In August, the DHS announced that 18 locations in 11 states had advanced to the next phase in the selection process for the home for the "next-generation" biological and agricultural defense facility.

Even though the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility could eventually replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the 55-year-old center off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., will receive $30 million for much-needed expansion and upgrades this year.

Ownership of Plum Island was transferred from the Agriculture Department to the Homeland Security Department in June 2003 as part of the Homeland Security Act.

A DHS spokesman was quoted by The Scientist as saying that the refurbishments at Plum Island are separate from the plan to build the NBAF and that no decision had been made whether to keep Plum Island open along with the new facility.

Plum Island is important in the rapid diagnosis of foreign animal diseases and is the only facility in the United States where research on live foot-and-mouth disease virus is permitted. The center has some 180 employees, half of whom are research scientists with the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Agricultural Research services.

The proposed enhancements at Plum Island include a new animal-holding wing consisting of 8,000 square feet, an expanded necropsy area, and a biosecurity level 3 laboratory for DHS research programs.

Meanwhile, the Homeland Security Department is working with the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services on the new facility, a state-of-the-art biosafety containment area where government scientists would come together to address biological and agricultural national security risks. The NBAF would be approximately 500,000 square feet and occupy at least 30 acres.

Plans call for equipping the NBAF with numerous laboratories for research in biological threats involving foreign animal, zoonotic, and human diseases. A key part of this will be housing laboratories that will provide high-security spaces for agricultural and animal studies research as well as for training personnel.

Additionally, the department wants the NBAF to develop vaccine countermeasures for foreign animal diseases and to provide advanced test and evaluation capability for threat detection, vulnerability, and countermeasure assessment for animal and zoonotic diseases.

The initiative is in keeping with Homeland Security Presidential Directive-9, which directs the Agriculture and Homeland Security secretaries to develop a plan to provide "safe, secure, and state-of-the-art agriculture biocontainment laboratories that research and develop diagnostic capabilities for foreign animal and zoonotic diseases."

After a review of 29 potential sites around the country for the NBAF, a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary team narrowed the list to the following 18:

  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California
  • Georgia Consortium for Health and Agro-Security (two sites)
  • Heartland BioAgro Consortium in Kansas (two sites)
  • Kentucky and Tennessee NBAF Consortium in Kentucky
  • Mid-Atlantic Bio-Ag Defense Consortium in Maryland
  • Gulf States Bio and Agro-Defense Consortium in Mississippi (three sites)
  • University of Missouri at Columbia
  • North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Oklahoma State University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Brooks Development Authority and Brooks City-Base Foundation in Texas
  • Texas Research and Technology Foundation
  • Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in Texas
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison site at the Kegonsa Research Facility.

Site candidates will have the opportunity to provide more detailed information to support their submissions. The DHS expects to narrow the potential sites even further by the end of 2006, with the final facility site named in early 2008.