Ole Miss, Not Plum Island

Posted on 29 August 2008

By Karl Grossman

 “Looks like Mississippi for me,” said the woman sitting next to me at the recent public meeting held by Department of Homeland Security on the possibility of a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility being sited on Plum Island.

The comment of the woman, a Plum Island Animal Disease Center employee, came as former Congresswoman and Brooklyn DA Elizabeth Holtzman, an Orient resident, blasted Homeland Security for considering Plum Island for a facility that would function at the highest danger level set for biological research, Bio-Safety Level 4. At that level, says the government, research is conducted into life-threatening diseases for both animals and humans “for which there is no known vaccine or therapy.”

“Absurd on its face,” Ms. Holtzman called Homeland Security’s analysis of Plum Island as the site. “This is too grave a danger to human life.”

Indeed, Plum Island, a mile-and-a-half off Long Island, is just off the Boston-to-New York population center of the U.S.

There are five other locations being considered but there is concern at most of them of an accident impacting on areas where there is much livestock.

As a statement on the website “No NBAF in Kansas” declares: “We must continue our protest of this NBAF facility the DHS is trying to get into Manhattan, Kansas, where they would introduce FMD [foot-and-mouth disease] and some of the most dangerous pathogens in the world. These pathogens could wreck our livestock industry…The lab should not be placed on the mainland, but should be built on Plum Island, which would offer better protection due to its isolation, and due also to the fact that it is not in the middle of a large concentration of livestock…This research is important, but not in the heart of Kansas, which is one of the top beef producing states in the United States.”

A website in North Carolina, “Stop The NBAF,” includes a statement from a state senator, Doug Berger, who both challenges foot-and-mouth disease research being “done safely on the mainland” and scores Homeland Security for “its lack of responsiveness” in its process for possibly siting the facility in Butner, North Carolina.

Homeland Security “during the selection process has so eroded public confidence that there is absolutely no trust between the local community and Homeland Security,” Senator Berger states. North Carolina and Long Island have this in common.

The place where there seems to be strong support is Mississippi. “Today, Mississippi finds itself inching closer to the opportunity of a generation,” declared a recent statement of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi. “The construction and operation of the $500 million NBAF would create hundreds of skilled jobs and would likely spur a biotechnology boom in Mississippi.” With Cochran on both the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and Senate Agriculture Committee, he has influence in bringing the facility to Mississippi.

The comment of the woman alongside me, “Looks like Mississippi for me,” stems from officials of Homeland Security saying that if the facility is sited elsewhere than Plum Island, it would close the half-century-old Plum Island Animal Disease Center and merge it with the new facility.

Ms. Holtzman was among the long line of speakers at the meeting speaking strongly against the facility coming to Plum Island. There was a statement from Congressman Tim Bishop that: “Simply put…Plum Island’s proximity to major metropolitan areas on Long Island and Connecticut make it an unsuitable location for BSL-4 research.” (The Plum Island Animal Disease Center runs at BSL-3.)

Gwynn Schroeder of Cutchogue spoke about the Millstone nuclear plants being eight miles away, and Plum Island in the federal “emergency zone” for Millstone.

Several speakers warned of terrorists hitting the highly exposed island. The day of the hearing came news that an Al Quaeda figure was arrested in Afghanistan with material on the New York City subway system, Times Square—and Plum Island.

And there was great concern voiced over the impossibility of evacuation on highly-populated Long Island in the event of an outbreak if the new facility if it is located on Plum Island.

The site for the facility? As the state’s official song is titled, “Go, Mississippi.”

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