Homeland Security recommends Kansas site to replace Plum Island

Published on December 15, 2008
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The Department of Homeland Security is recommending Kansas State University as the site of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility for the study of foreign animal and zoonotic diseases that can affect livestock.

The AVMA is backing federal legislation to establish the NBAF. The high-security facility will replace Plum Island Animal Disease Center on Plum Island, N.Y., the only location in the United States for research on the live virus that causes foot-and-mouth disease. Homeland Security has oversight of Plum Island, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts the research there on foreign animal diseases.

In early December, Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate released the final environmental impact statement for the NBAF. The directorate will publish a formal record of decision in mid-January. Facility design will begin this year, with construction to begin in 2010. Plans call for the NBAF to be operational by 2015.

"This facility, once built, will help us to protect our livestock industry, food supply, and public health from the accidental or intentional introduction of a foreign animal or zoonotic disease in the U.S.," said Jay Cohen, Homeland Security undersecretary for science and technology. "The assessment process was extensive, engaging experts within and without the government as well as each potential site community, and this final report carefully weighs the input from all interested parties."

According to Homeland Security, the existing facility on Plum Island is too small and too old to meet new research needs. The facility also is not appropriate for research on zoonotic disease at biosafety level 4, according to the department. Homeland Security plans to close the existing facility on Plum Island once the NBAF is operational.

The final environmental impact statement analyzes the potential risks of building the NBAF at six possible locations: Athens, Ga.; Manhattan, Kan.; Madison County, Miss.; Granville County, North Carolina; San Antonio, Texas; and Plum Island, N.Y. The report also assesses the alternative of not building a new facility. During the evaluation period, Homeland Security held 16 public meetings and received hundreds of comments.

The report lists the strengths of the Kansas site as including proximity to existing research capabilities and workforce—notably at Kansas State's veterinary college, agriculture college, and Biosecurity Research Institute. Almost all environmental impacts fell into the "no impacts to minor impacts" category. The site would be among the least expensive for construction and operating costs, taking into consideration contributions from local consortia. The NBAF also had strong community acceptance.

"This might very well be the most important thing that has happened to Kansas State University in the entire history of the university," said Jon Wefald, PhD, president of the university. "Never before in the history of Kansas has a national federal laboratory of this magnitude been sited in the state. We are talking about a half-billion-dollar animal health facility that will be the finest laboratory of its kind in the entire world."

The NBAF also could be beneficial to the animal health companies that have clustered in a wide area around Kansas City. A recent initiative has promoted the region as the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor.

Additional details about the NBAF are here.