Some reasons why the NABF might be a bad idea
So K-State is all keen to get the National Agro- and Biodefense Facility to select Manhattan as the site for this ostensibly prestigious facility. Why one would attach prestige (really, it’s about money and a few guys in suits stroking their egos) to a facility where biological agents potentially deadly to humans and animals is beyond me; moreover, why would one want this near a population center, let alone a crowded campus with no real ability to evacuate in a short timeframe (what road would we use exactly in an evacuation, anyway?).
I’m sure many of the research scientists at K-State would call me naive or paranoid. I’m neither, or so I like to think. When it comes to paranoia, I think it’s only healthy to be skeptical in the extreme when an official of the federal government says one has nothing to fear. Really, do I have to trot out the scores of incidents where our government has deliberately misled people for the sake of research or convenience? As far as being naive, I understand that this research needs to take place, and that these facilities need a home. Might I suggest that that home be in a hardened facility (i.e.- underground, with a large, aggressively patrolled security perimeter) at least, oh, a fair piece from a population center of the size of Manhattan? I know there are few places with no population centers at all in the U.S. and that inevitably it will land near some town. It is, however, much easier to evacuate a town of 2,000 than a town of 50,000 in a pinch. That’s the point.
I’m just a librarian, so what do I know, though? I do know how to troll the accumulated wisdom of our age for relevant articles and news items. Read for yourself:
Hoof and mouth breach in the UK:
- Biosecurity breach would be ‘body blow’, say farmers, The Independent, 9/4/2007
- Human error may have led to outbreak, The Guardian, 8/6/2007
2004 article in Science notes that standards are needed for federal facilities, implying deficiencies in current system (Gaudioso J, Salermo R. Biosecurity and Research: Minimizing Adverse Impacts. Science. 304 (5671), p. 687. 4/30/2004)
Field, Kelly. Lab Security Was Lax, Federal Report Says. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 4/30/2004. – Details how 11 universities were cited for lax biohazard security.
Aken, Jan van. When risk outweighs benefit: Dual-use research needs a scientifically sound risk-benefit analysis and legally binding biosecurity measures. EMBO Reports. 7 (2006), SI. p. S10. Very well-articulated article about the risks and benefits of dual-use research. This quote caught my eye: “Although it is laudable that the USA is far ahead of most other countries in devising such a biosecurity review system, the current approach does not meet even the minimal requirements for a scheme that would be both effective and sufficiently focused in order to avoid placing an unnecessary administrative burden on the scientific community.” If there is such a burden, doesn’t it stand to reason that this could plausibly lead to circumvention and breach?
Rellman, Choffnes, and Lemon. In Search of Biosecurity. Science. 311 (5769) 2006 p. 1835. An editorial pointing out some of the flaws in current government regulations.
This is just a sampling …