©1999NewsMakingNews®Unless otherwise specified.
1. West Nile-Like outbreak occurred across the bay from the Plum Island Research Laboratory.
2. Plum Island to be upgraded to highest security containment level--BL4.
MICROBES ON THE BEACH: MILITARY RESEARCH GOES TO A HIGHER LEVEL
By Hillel Cohen
Military penetration of civilian science is going to a higher level. An agricultural research laboratory on Plum Island--just off the eastern tip of New York's Long Island near Orient Point--is scheduled to become a major center for studying biological-warfare agents that can be used against animals and plants.
To do so, it will be "upgraded" from a Level 3 facility to Level 4. This means the lab will be used to study the most dangerous and deadly microorganisms known.
The change will be part of the Clinton administration's $2.8 billion program against "unconventional terrorism," including so-called bio-terrorism.
The Plum Island lab had been run by the Agricultural Department to study insects and microbes that could threaten crops and animal herds in the United States. The lab was created as a military research unit long ago. It probably was involved in biological and chemical warfare research. It was turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1952 and presumably switched over to civilian research.
Equipped with air locks and containment chambers, it is supposed to be able to safely handle dangerous pathogens.
Some observers have noted that Plum Island is just across the bay from the area where the encephalitis outbreak began in New York.
At first the virus was thought to be of a "St. Louis" strain that is rare in the Northeast but somewhat more common in Florida and other states in the South and Southwest. Now the virus has been re-identified as an Upper Nile strain--the names are based on where a virus is first identified--which had not been seen before in North America.
Such a rare occurrence near a facility that studies rare pathogens might be just a coincidence. Plum Island officials have made no comment about the outbreak.
Nonetheless, Plum Island will now be outfitted to handle even more dangerous pathogens--those known to be able to infect humans as well as plants and animals. For example, the known U.S. stocks of the smallpox virus are kept at a Level 4 facility.
The supposed purpose is to study defenses against bio- terrorist attacks on U.S. agriculture. No such attacks have ever been reported. Nor has any group or country ever threatened such an attack on the United States.
So why is defense needed?
Recall that the biggest, most aggressive military machine in the world, headquartered in the Pentagon, is officially called the Department of Defense.
Is it possible that under the guise of defense, Plum Island will be studying pathogens to be used against crops and animals in other countries? Or will it study antidotes and defenses so that the military and CIA can feel secure that using such agents wouldn't boomerang back and hurt U.S. farm products?
Or, like the so-called Star Wars--Strategic Defense Initiative--anti-missile shield, is it part of a strategy that aims to deflect retaliation after a first strike?
The U.S. government has signed treaties banning producing and storing biological and chemical weapons. However, many tons of such agents are still "waiting for destruction," and no one knows what agents are being held in secret.
The treaties also allow "defensive" research. Critics have long suspected that offensive biological and chemical research work has been carried out in the name of defense.
Interestingly, the state of Florida, with federal support, is about to introduce a genetically engineered fungus that is supposed to attack marijuana plants. The fungus will be sprayed by air on areas where marijuana crops are suspected but have not been observed.
Area farmers and environmentalists are concerned that the fungus might mutate naturally and attack other crops as well.
While state and federal officials are "confident" that such a thing couldn't happen, peasants in Peru are charging that similar agents the United States provided to attack coca and marijuana plants have done extensive damage to banana, yucca and tangerine crops.
Other "backfires" have taken place. Decades ago, scientists introduced kudzu vines to stop erosions and Melaleuca trees to drain excess water. These plants now grow out of control and create havoc in many areas.
If the government has used biological weapons in Peru, an ally, and is about to use them in Florida, is it really inconceivable that Plum Island will be working on weapons to be used against "enemies"?
The CIA, the Pentagon and Agriculture Department officials of Plum Island have assured the public that the new facility will be safe and for "defense" purposes only. But the smart money stopped investing in Orient Point tourism.
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PLUM ISLAND UPGRADE TO BL4 CONTAINMENT ©New York Times, November 19, 1999
Stressing safety and trying to debunk a cloak-and-dagger image they said was undeserved, officials of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center turned to the public Wednesday night to seek support for an expansion that would allow top-security research on viruses that are deadly to animals and
But the reaction was mixed at the public meeting in Greenport, a community on the North Fork of Long Island about 10 miles from the offshore center, and where many of the center's 180 employees live. About 200 residents, including lab employees, attended the meeting, the first of several to be held in coming months, including one scheduled for Thursday night in Waterford, Conn., about 10 miles north of Plum Island.
State Assemblywoman Patricia L. Acampora of Mattituck, whose district includes the parts of Long Island nearest the 840-acre island, said: "No one is questioning the need for us to be prepared to combat bioterrorism. The central issue here is whether Plum Island is the appropriate location to handle some of the most dangerous germs known to man." But David E. Kapell, the mayor of Greenport, said a tour of the laboratory he and other officials took on Monday had reassured him. "I can understand people's fear, but on the other hand, Plum Island has been there 50 years and there have been no incidents," he said.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering upgrading the Plum Island center so it would be the only animal research center in the country designated at biosafety level four, or BL4.
It is currently a BL3 center, where safety and security protocols are similar to those needed at the higher classification. The Clinton administration has expressed fears about a growing threat of
biological terrorism, which could introduce into animals viruses for which there is no known cure; the viruses could then pass on to humans. But members of a panel of high-ranking laboratory and agricultural department officials at the hearing played down the threat of bioterrorism, saying
the BL4 lab would be used primarily to enhance the lab's mission of protecting the country's $90 billion livestock industry against foreign viruses. Those officials said there had been no final decision where to put the BL4 lab, but they left no question Plum Island was in the lead. The officials
said the island had advantages over other possible sites because it already had a BL3 center and the scientific staff to study foreign animal diseases.
Dr. Kiley said an upgrading of the laboratory to BL4 would involve extensive security measures.
The 5 towns on eastern Long Island have passed resolutions demanding the Suffolk County Health Services Department be allowed to monitor lab health and safety precautions. One of them, Shelter Island, has called on the federal government to eliminate Plum Island as a potential site for the
Thomas W. Sparkman, the First Selectman of Lisbon, Conn., said he was unaware of any local groups opposed the BL4 facilities. Sparkman was among the laboratory tour group on Monday. "Quite frankly, I was impressed," he said. "I was given the sense they were ever mindful of safety."
Date: Sat, 20 Nov 1999 21:56:12 -0500
Source: Fox News
PLUM ISLAND, N.Y. Contrary to rumor, there are no three-headed pigs here.
Still, this tiny, high-security island, only a mile and a half off Long Island's prosperous North Fork, is the site of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, where scientists study some of the world's most infectious animal viruses. It's the lab made famous in Nelson DeMille's 1997 best seller "Plum Island," about stolen viruses and murdered scientists. And because the public is usually kept out, there is wild speculation about what goes on inside the lab 135 miles east of Manhattan.
Now that the Agriculture Department wants to upgrade the laboratory, allowing scientists to also study animal diseases that endanger humans, officials are going out of their way to ease public concern, addressing local residents and taking elected officials and reporters on tours.
What's being considered is upgrading the lab to "Biosecurity Level 4", the highest security level.
For the lab's current security level, reporters and photographers given a tour last week. They had to completely remove their street clothing and redress in coveralls and clean sneakers, standard procedure for Plum Island employees. Photographers had to carry waterproof cameras that could
be soaked in acetic acid after the tour, again standard protective procedures. Everyone had to shower for at least 3 minutes when they left.
Greenport Mayor Dave Kapell was one of the local elected officials who toured the facility. "In every place that I went in that lab, I would see people that I see every day in the village," he said. "These are all our friends and our neighbors that operate this place. Frankly, if they're not scared, I don't feel scared."