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Safety Concerns Aired At NBAF Hearing

A committee of the National Research Council visited Kansas State University Friday to get a feel for safety concerns for a giant biosafety lab planned for the Manhattan, Kan., campus.

The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, will be the premier federal laboratory for research on animal diseases that could threaten the nation’s food supply. Some of those diseases may also pass between animals and humans—the so-called "bird flu," for instance. 

Research on animal diseases is currently confined to an island, but the facility is outdated and is scheduled to be replaced. Several of the 14 people who testified at the Kansas State hearing felt the new lab ought to be on an island—not in America’s breadbasket.

One of those who testified, Sylvia Beamon, represents a group called Biosecurity for the Heartland. She urged caution.

“I love this community and want it to thrive," Beamon said. "We don’t want to be guinea pigs, however.”

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s policy director, Landon Fulmer, downplayed fears that an uncontrollable contagion might be released from the lab.

“This is going to be the safest facility—laboratory facility—probably ever built,” Fulmer said.

Greg Baecher, an engineering professor at the University of Maryland, chairs the National Research Council committee assigned to review a new risk assessment for NBAF. A previous NRC committee found that the initial risk assessment was incomplete and underestimated the risk of a devastating pathogen like Foot-and-Mouth Disease escaping from the lab. 

Baecher is confident that all of the concerns expressed at the meeting in Manhattan will be taken into account.

“I don’t think I heard anything today that I’ve not heard in our briefings from DHS and their contractors who are doing the risk assessment,” Baecher said.

Baecher and his committee haven’t seen the new risk assessment yet.  The Department of Homeland Security expects to present it to them in February.

For more NBAF coverage, visit KCUR's NBAF page.

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