Another Round Of NBAF Questions

Mar 15, 2012

The latest in the dizzying round of discussions about the safety and security of the Department of Homeland Security’s high-level bio containment lab in Manhattan, Kan., will take place this Friday in Washington, D.C.

That’s when DHS is scheduled to present an updated risk assessment for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, to the National Research Committee (NRC). The stakes are high. In 2010, the NRC reviewed the initial design for the NBAF and found what it called “major shortcomings;” the report revealed a 70 percent chance of a Foot and Mouth Disease release within the 50-year life of the lab.

Congress then tied future funding for the project to changes that ensure the security of the lab.

DHS says its updated assessment dramatically reduces risk from the NBAF to less than 1 percent over the life of the lab.  While Friday’s  meeting  is open to the public, NRC spokesman Jennifer Walsh said it is not a “hearing,” but an opportunity for the experts to ask DHS questions about its findings for the congressionally mandated review. Tara O’Toole, an undersecretary from the DHS Office of Science and Technology, is scheduled to testify before NRC officials.

DHS secretary Janet Napolitano recently told a Senate subcommittee that she would convene a taskforce to look at why a top level security lab is needed. The task force, Napolitano said, would “review the cost, safety, and any alternatives to the current plan that would reduce costs and ensure safety.”

Skeptics have suggested it would be safer and more cost-effective to renovate and update the Plum Island Animal Disease Center on Long Island, which NBAF is supposed to replace.

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