Biolab's design changes drop risks: Study

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Department of Homeland Security is expected to release a report showing that recent changes to the design of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kan. have significantly decreased the risk of an accidental release of dangerous pathogens. 

The safety of the biolab was the subject of concern this past year. The NBAF is expected to study dangerous foreign animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, as well as diseases deadly to humans that may be transmitted between animals and people. An updated site-specific risk assessment was completed in February and includes:

• A more systematic approach to the assessment of potential accidents and characterization of uncertainties;
• Incorporation of tornado modeling;
• Additional data (susceptible populations, outbreak control measure resources, etc.) collected for the NBAF location and used in the epidemiological and economic modeling;
• An assessment of cumulative risk of foot-and-mouth disease release over the predicted lifetime of the NBAF; and
• An assessment of the unique risks of a large animal high containment laboratory (ABSL-4).

The agency also performed calculations on the probability of an accidental release of foot-and- mouth disease. The assessment found that "the estimated expected probability of an accidental release of viable FMDv from the NABF will occur and the result in a subsequent outbreak during the NABS's nominal 50-year operating lifetime is less than 0.11 percent (including catastrophic events such as tornadoes and earthquakes) and less than 0.008 percent when catastrophic events are excluded."

The new laboratory would replace an aging one in Plum Island, NY. Construction on the laboratory was expected to begin in 2012, with operations transferred from Plum Island by as early as 2017. The facility would be the world’s third-largest Biosafety-Level 4 Pathogen laboratory. The other two facilities are in Australia and Canada.

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