While SA politicos and our econo-bio community have expressed unqualified support for N-BAF, North Carolina physicians and are not thrilled by chances of the germ lab coming to their state.
In Alamo City, not only have the environmental and social justice community been absent from the conversation, but there hasn’t even been any intelligent conversation about the issues. [UPDATE: Meanwhile, Granville County Commissioners in North Carolina withdraw their support, 1/8/08]
The 40 doctors who signed onto the following letter published in The News & Observer last weekend have some significant points to consider.
Proposed lab could unleash dangerous microbes
The following is a statement submitted by Dr. Joseph Melamed of Oxford on behalf of 40 physicians who live and work in North Carolina. It concerns their opposition to the proposed federal disease-research lab in Butner. Several North Carolina universities and groups favor bringing the 520,000-square-foot lab to the site. Locations in Georgia, Mississippi, Kansas and Texas are also being considered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.We strongly oppose siting the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) in Butner. The work done at this facility will not and is not intended to improve the health of any people or animals in the United States. The only purpose of the NBAF is the study of diseases that may be used as biological weapons.
Not one of these deadly, exotic viruses currently exists in North Carolina or has ever infected any human or animal here. They pose no threat now, but that will change once they are imported from across the world to Butner, where a single accident could unleash a disease in our backyard for which there is no cure.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), this facility will study “the world’s most dangerous microbes, several capable of rapid widespread human depopulation.” Many of these diseases are hemorrhagic fever viruses, which typically cause death by massive internal bleeding. They infect animals and then spread to humans. None of these diseases can be cured.
Experts agree that Biological Safety Level 3 (BSL-3) and 4 (BSL-4) labs such as the NBAF are not foolproof. As evidence of this, a 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease in England originated from virus stolen from a lab. It could be contained only after the slaughter of 10 million cattle and sheep, and it resulted in economic devastation for the agricultural industry.
In 2007, a lab accident resulted in another outbreak of the same virus in England. In 1978, an outbreak of foot and mouth disease occurred at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York (the lab that NBAF will replace) and was contained only because the lab is on an isolated island. In 2004, an accident at China’s most secure disease lab caused an outbreak of the deadly SARS virus. In 1999, the first animal and human cases of West Nile Virus ever to occur outside of Africa cropped up near the Plum Island Disease lab in New York. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been infected, and hundreds have died.
Dozens of well-documented incidents of safety or security violations, theft or loss of viruses, worker exposures, infected animal waste leaks and disease outbreaks are known to have occurred at existing BSL-3 and BSL-4 facilities in the United States. These failures have been published in reputable news media and mainstream scientific journals.
A U.S. House of Representatives oversight committee report from October found that more than a hundred accidents and violations were reported over the past four years at BSL-4 labs involving biological weapons viruses, and they believed this to be an underestimate of the actual number of accidents. Congress has recently called into question the safety and oversight of these labs.
The Department of Homeland Security will run the NBAF and is interested in studying biological weapons viruses there, in part, because even a tiny amount can result in massive devastation. Infections are most likely to occur in people who are nearest to the source of the leak, but viruses can travel in the air for up to 40 miles.
If you or a family member become infected with any of the BSL-4 diseases that the government may bring to Butner, there will be nothing that any of us can do to cure you, and it is highly likely that you will be quarantined.