Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Accidental" Releases of Bio and Chemical Weapons?

Plum Island, off the northern shore of Long Island, N.Y., is seen in an aerial file photo. (AP PHOTO / USDA-ARS, FILE / November 19, 1999) Hartford Courant story below.

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Many have long suspected Plum Island to be ground zero for "accidental" releases of scourges like Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus. Maybe there is yet to be identified releases that are currently raising havoc. [previous post, click here]

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Possible Plum Island Upgrade Worries Some Shoreline Residents

By ALAINE GRIFFIN | Courant Staff Writer
August 14, 2008

Despite reports this week that the federal government is looking at Mississippi as its pick for a facility to study some of the world's most deadly biological threats, some shoreline residents wary of research conducted on Plum Island in Long Island Sound are concerned that the lab could still be built 8 miles off the Connecticut coast.

Five mainland locations are on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security list to house the new laboratory. Federal officials expect to pick a site by the end of the year.

Published reports this week said Flora, Miss., is at the top of the list, with sites in Athens, Ga.; Manhattan, Kan.; San Antonio, Texas; and Butner, N.C., also being considered.

Homeland Security began looking for an alternative site to Plum Island two years ago because estimates showed it would cost more than $750 million to build a new, more secure lab on the 840-acre island. Officials have said a new lab could be built on the mainland for about $500 million, and it would be less expensive to run.

A plan to expand the existing Plum Island facility, however, is still on the table, Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said this week. Informational meetings about the plan were held recently in Old Saybrook and in Greenport, N.Y. The lab is just off the north fork on the eastern tip of Long Island.

For shoreline residents like Nancy Czarzasty of Old Saybrook, the meeting resurrected long-standing safety concerns some locals have about living near a facility where highly contagious animal diseases are researched.

What is most distressing, Czarzasty said, is that the facility would become what is called a "biosafety level four" lab if the Plum Island Animal Disease Center is upgraded to the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

Kudwa said the Plum Island facility is now classified as a biosafety level three lab. Going up to level four would allow scientists to study "diseases that don't have a cure," Kudwa said. Viruses that are potentially lethal to humans could also be probed with the new biosafety level in place.

"I am concerned about the safety of modernizing Plum Island into a biosafety level four facility [that] would increase its research to include infectious agents that can be transmitted or shared by human and animals — and their human health effects," Czarzasty said. Currently, the facility only studies animal to animal pathogens, Czarzasty said.

Czarzasty has written letters to Gov. M. Jodi Rell and other state politicians opposing the upgrade, and she is urging residents to contact Homeland Security about their concerns. The meeting in Old Saybrook was poorly attended; she said many locals were not aware a meeting was taking place.

Kudwa said the meeting was advertised in local newspapers and that local leaders were contacted. She said the public can submit comments in writing or via the Internet to the Department of Homeland Security by Aug. 25.

The U.S. Army first set up a laboratory on Plum Island in the 1950s to conduct research into biological warfare. In 1954, the Department of Agriculture moved in to study foreign animal diseases that could harm America or diseases that enemies could use to damage the food supply.

Connecticut residents have objected to laboratory upgrades at Plum Island in the past, fearing that lethal viruses would somehow escape onto the mainland. In response, the facility has held public tours on which disease experts educated visitors about safety and security measures at the site. An extensive website about the lab also addresses safety issues.

The government's search for a new site has sparked protests and applause in other states. Politicians vying for the lab say they're excited about the job and economic development prospects for their regions.

Old Saybrook Selectman Bill Pease said the closing of Plum Island would have a negative impact on Connecticut's economy, resulting in an estimated loss of "150 good-paying jobs."

Kudwa said that even if a new lab is built elsewhere, the Plum Island lab would continue to operate at some level until about 2015.

Pease said the research at Plum Island is vital to the safety of the world's food supply. He's convinced the lab is safe and secure.

"There's a real gap between fact and fiction," Pease said, recalling persistent rumors and suspicion from even close friends that the lab is linked to such outbreaks as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. He said "Plum Island," Nelson DeMille's novel about the fictitious murders of a husband-wife team of researchers and the theft of a genetically altered virus from the laboratory, added to what he said are myths about the facility.

To get his own answers, Pease said he took a tour of the island a few years ago.

"They made us take showers," Pease said. "You clean your nose and nails like you never cleaned them before."

Contact Alaine Griffin at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out this VIDEO about PLUM ISLAND on


Available on YouTube without ads

Thu Nov 27, 11:14:00 PM 2008  

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