Friday, October 24, 2008

U.S. Dedicates New Biodefense Laboratory

U.S. Dedicates New Biodefense Laboratory

Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008
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A new $143 million U.S. biological defense laboratory was dedicated yesterday and is scheduled to begin full operations in March, the Washington Post reported (see GSN, Jan. 29).

The Homeland Security Department's National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Fort Detrick, Md., is set to house nearly 150 scientists working to prevent acts of bioterrorism, limit the effects of such a strike and trace lethal material back to its source.

The primary offices in the 160,000-square-foot, ship-shaped facility are a forensics testing center for identification of those who carry out an attack using disease material and the Biothreat Characterization Center, which would model potential bioterrorism scenarios and help produce drugs to counter bioagents.

The site has 10,000 square feet of Biosafety Level 4 laboratory space, where the most lethal diseases can be handled, along with 40,000 square feet of BSL-3 space for work in anthrax and other material.

"This is a great day. Many of us have been waiting for this day for a long time," said Jamie Johnson, who leads Homeland Security's Office of National Laboratories of the Science and Technology Directorate. "I feel very passionately about this facility, and I feel even more passionately about its mission. This is state-of-the-art, cutting-edge bioforensics."

Not everyone was convinced. Local attorney Barry Kissin expressed doubt about the government's pledge that the facility would not conduct offensive bioweapons work.

"It's not only a huge threat to local public health and safety, it is in the forefront of the instigation of a brand-new arms race in the realm of bioweapons," he said. "Here we are, expanding by about 20 times the size of the program that we're now being told generated the only bioattack in our history."

Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) said the facility would help the United States defend itself against "cutting-edge" biological threats, the Post reported. The United States lost a step when it ended its bioweapons efforts in 1969, a move not matched by other nations, he said.

"As a scientist, I knew how important it was to be at the cutting edge," said Bartlett, who has a doctorate in human physiology. "I don't have complete confidence that our intelligence community will be able to tell us what's going on at the cutting edge."

Researchers at the new facility are "going to have to divine what's happening," Bartlett said. He said he has "great confidence that this organization will indeed be able to protect us" (Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post, Oct. 23).

There was no mention at yesterday's ceremony of former Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins, who is alleged to have used material from Fort Detrick to carry out the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people (see GSN, Oct. 1). Ivins committed suicide in July as federal prosecutors prepared charges against him.

Laboratory chief Patrick Fitch said the internal security plan for the facility remains under development, the Associated Press reported.

Included in a draft security proposal are plans for video cameras for monitoring of personnel in the BSL-4 laboratories and to a more-limited extent in the BSL-3 space.

Fitch appeared to oppose a "two-person" rule, which would require scientists to work in pairs. "I think the consensus among BSL-4 directors is that a two-person rule increases their safety risk," he said. "Safety is going to trump security."

Some scientists have argued that always being required to work with a partner could hinder their work if they needed to visit their laboratory during weekends or nights, AP reported. Fitch said that scientists who feel they are under pressure from a partner might be more likely to make an error while rushing through work (David Dishneau, Associated Press/The Daily Record, Oct. 23).

Given that we are now 7 years after the Antrax attacks that appear to have orginated at Fort Detrick, how "safe" are we supposed to be in knowing this new lab is going to track down the bad guys? There is no "proof" the recently passed scientist actually mailed the anthrax, the stress of being the object of FBI scrutiny and following his wife and children around may have driven him to commit suicide. I still have questions about who actually did the attacks, given what was done to DR Hatfield and Bruce Ivins even Congress is not convinced the government has the right suspect.

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watchdog on science said...

Very good reporting. Thank you. I will link your story to my blog.

Frank Keegan said...

Self (inflicted) defense can up risk
By The Baltimore Examiner Newspaper
- 11/23/08

Two clear facts shine from the clouded mystery of anthrax attacks on America and our government’s tenuous claim seven years later of closing the case with the suicide of a suspect.
Fact No. 1: Government warnings about anthrax being a weapon of mass destruction were false. Somebody dispersed the most lethal strain our tax dollars can produce — weapons-grade or near enough — via the U.S. Postal Service, exposing tens of millions of people, yet managed to infect 22. Five died. But from anthrax vaccination, at least 21 died and thousands reported a wide range of illnesses.

Fact No. 2: If FBI accusations against their prime suspect in the 2001 attack are true, it means billions of dollars taxpayers invested on the premise of prevention actually increased the risk.

When senior biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins died from an overdose of Tylenol 3 after being identified as sole suspect, our central
government declared the crime solved.

However, co-workers at the U.S. Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick say the actions attributed to Ivins over the time the government claims are scientifically impossible.

This is going to be another never-healing wound in America’s body of unsolved mysteries.

But mystery should not distract us from the truth. Our government’s response to bioweapons is raising the danger level from them.

Think it through, citizens. The very vaccination program intended to thwart anthrax apparently sickened and killed more people than an actual mass attack.

After the 2001 attack, our government hurled $41 billion at bioterror with no real coordination or study. High-level labs multiplied threefold. A dozen agencies exponentially increased the number of facilities and workers handling pathogens. Now we have more than 15,000 potential Bruce Ivins.

Meanwhile, our leaders provided no adequate increase in oversight, coordination, training, security, surveillance, testing, background checks or psychological screening.

Statistically, something going horribly wrong now approaches sure thing. That is not just a threat to residents of Frederick, Bethesda and other communities. It is, as the spread of anthrax spores proved, a threat to the whole world.

We learned in 2001 the actual danger from anthrax was lower than vaccine.

But these biohazard labs grow a lot more dangerous pathogens than anthrax. The next one to get out could kill millions.

President Bush must immediately halt programs until we can impose coordinated oversight, then assess security and capacity needs.

We must not let self-defense become self-inflicted catastrophe.

Link to GAO reports High-Containment Biosafety Laboratories Issues Associated with Expansion

Read the vaccine series Scientific impossibility Sickening results Costly program Pentagon responds

Mike (Beetle) Bailey said...

Mr Keegan thank you for your links and your comments, I also believe we are creating more of a mess than we are doing to protect us from danger, not all labs require the "buddy system" that Fort Detrick has mandated why? They should all be as a matter of national security, it prevents rogues from doing what past rogues have done. Read up on Dr Sidney Gottlieb and no where will you see his named linked to Fort Detrick or Edgewood Arsenal that was as rogue as they come.