Biodefense Lab Finds Home in Manhattan, Kansas

By Matthew Harwood

The Department of Homeland Security approved plans yesterday to build a biodefense lab in Kansas despite fears that a pathogenic release could spread deadly diseases throughout the Midwest's agricultural sector.

National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) will be built  on the Manhattan, Kansas, campus of Kansas State University. The lab will replace the lab on Plum Island, New York.

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According to USA Today, Congress' watchdog has questioned the decision to place the lab on the mainland:

A May 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted the safety aspects of an island location for the research. The virus can spread from infected animals being studied to healthy ones by contaminated vehicles, shoes or clothing, or it could be carried in the wind, according to the GAO.

"If accidentally released, these pathogens could cause catastrophic economic losses in the agricultural sector," the report states.

Kansas' federal and state lawmakers, however, have touted DHS' decision, noting how the construction, operation, and maintenance of the lab will be a shot of life to Kansas' economy.

Last year, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) addressed a joint session of his state's House and Senate to lobby for the lab's construction in Kansas, telling the assembled lawmakers that "securing this facility would be one of, if not the greatest, economic development initiatives in state history. It is a key to the economic future of Kansas. If it happens, future generations of Kansans will have economic opportunities available to them that are currently unimaginable or available only outside the border of Kansas."

The Associated Press reports that building the facility will generate 1,500 construction jobs and will receive a payroll of between $25 and $30 million for 500 employees, 300 of which will be researchers. Kansas will also supply $105 million to cover infrastructure improvements at the building site.

The NBAF is expected to be completed by 2015.


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