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In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to replace the old Plum Island Animal Disease Center off Long Island with a facility on the U.S. mainland to study Foot and Mouth Disease and other dangerous pathogens. Kansas won the job in 2008, with a site on the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan.But today, more than three years later, the proposed $1.14 billion National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility faces funding obstacles, safety questions, rising costs and political fallout. For Kansas and the Midwest, the stakes couldn’t be higher.Here you’ll find coverage and updates from Harvest Public Media, KCUR and Kansas Public Media.

Report: K-State Faced Federal Sanctions On Bioterror Safety Standards

Laura Ziegler

Check out this good scoop on Kansas State University’s failure to adhere to federal safety regulations while doing research on dangerous bioterror pathogens.

USA Today’s Alison Young, an investigative reporter, uncovered a secret letter from federal lab regulators that cited K-State’s “history of non-compliance” that has “raised serious concerns” about the school’s ability to safely contain the dangerous pathogens.

This is important, of course, because K-State is the site of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, in Manhattan, Kan. Work on NBAF, a $1.25 billion, 570,000-square-foot facility, is underway.

Although K-State officials downplayed the reprimand as involving only paperwork, this report confirms the fears of those who oppose placing the huge lab in farm country that’s prone to tornados.

From Young’s story:

Although the NBAF will be an independently run Department of Homeland Security facility when it opens around 2022, the university has publicized on its website that Kansas State’s labs already are being used to “jump-start” research that “will eventually transition” to the new federal facility. Transition research underway includes studies of Rift Valley fever, a mosquito-borne disease that can cause abortions in livestock and fatal infections in people; Japanese encephalitis, another mosquito-borne disease that can cause reproductive problems in pigs and serious and sometimes fatal brain infections in people; and Classical swine fever, a potentially deadly pig disease.

In reaction to Young's story, K-State posted this statement, saying it "stands behind its record of safety and transparency."

The K-State story came out of a larger investigation by Young titled “Inside America’s secretive biolabs.” The probe has already had impact: the Centers for Disease Control announced a review of the oversight (or lack thereof) of bioterror labs.

Donn Teske, a fifth-generation Kansas cattleman and vice president of the National Farmers Union, said his group has opposed NBAF since the beginning. The USA Today report didn’t surprise him, he said, as there were also problems on Plum Island, site of the current federal lab that studies livestock diseases.

“Plum Island has had several (disease) escapees over the years and they just completely cleaned the island up and started over,” Teske said. “How do you do that in the middle of cattle country?”

For more background on NBAF, see the dedicated coverage.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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