Biodefense Research Could Move to Kansas Early, DHS Says

The United States might conduct biological defense research at Kansas State University before a new laboratory is built there for that purpose, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday (see GSN, Jan. 13).

Construction of the $450 million National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility is expected to start next year and continue for roughly five years, the Associated Press reported. The laboratory would replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York.

Napolitano did not specify what research could be conducted at the university or how soon it might begin.

"We have a team from the Department of Homeland Security that's to be on site here next week, and they are to drill down on some of those types of specifics," she said.

Appearing at a press conference with Napolitano, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said that Homeland Security could purchase or lease the university's Biosecurity Research Institute.

"It was part of our bid from Kansas that that was a decision that should be made by Homeland Security," she said. "We have the opportunity here, at least, to be up and running very, very quickly, given the fact that this secure facility already exists."

Napolitano also attempted to assuage safety concerns shared by more than 20 protesters gathered nearby. Safety measures would be "built into ever square inch" of the new laboratory and the university's present research center is just as safe, she said.

At least one opponent remained unconvinced.

"One of the most dangerous things from a public health and animal health perspective is foot-and-mouth disease, which is one of the most virulent viruses known. The effect on the economy here of such a spill, no matter how small, would be unfathomable," said Tom Manney, a retired Kansas State University biology professor who heads a group opposing the planned research (John Hanna, Associated Press/Hays Daily News, Feb. 11).

February 11, 2009
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The United States might conduct biological defense research at Kansas State University before a new laboratory is built there for that purpose, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday (see GSN, Jan. 13).