Thursday, May 22, 2008

PLUM ISLAND


Did you happen to catch the news crawl today blabbing about the Bush administration's flawed study concluding that a highly infectious animal disease research facility could be safely moved to the mainland? Say what?

Not seeing any actual news story on TV, I googled it. OMG, they're talking about PLUM ISLAND! Isn't that the island that Hannibal Lecter was offered in "Silence of the Lambs" as an alternative to his solitary isolation cell? Even Lecter (Hannibal the Cannibal) refused it, pointing to the Animal Disease Center located there. He preferred to take his own chances on a long-shot escape, risking death, rather than endure living there. Lecter called it "Anthrax Island".

Should it be a shock to anyone anymore that the Bush administration would rely on flawed studies that confirm whatever they are promoting? The Homeland Security Dept and officials from the GAO are conducting hearings today. Perhaps C-Span will show some of the hearings, or maybe Keith Olbermann. This is what our TV news is down to, a quick news crawl and then C-Span or Keith. The administration contends that modern laboratories have the highest security to prevent an escape of the virus.

What virus are they talking about? Foot-and-Mouth disease (FMD), a catastrophic destroyer of livestock. It has been avoided in the U.S. by confining research since 1955 to the 840-acre Plum Island, located off Long Island NY. The Plum Island facility has had a history of accidents, the GAO contends, seven that the GAO is aware of between 1971 and 2004. The secrecy of the facility makes it likely there have been more accidents as well as possible exposure to many deadly diseases beyond FMD. But even just FMD scares the willies out of any rancher/farmer as it would lead to severe losses in meat production as well as milk with millions of livestock being slaughtered in order to halt the spread should FMD escape.

The prime motivator for our Dear Leaders to move this facility onshore seems to be their desire to use Plum Island for a National Bio-and-Agro Defense Facility that will study diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans. This means officially authorizing research beyond FMD-like viruses (which do not directly sicken humans). It's something they've been wanting to do for some time. Local Long Island activists prevented the facility from expanding to include diseases that affect humans in 2000, which would require a Biosafety Level 4 designation. In 2002, Congress again considered the plan. And here we are back again, this time considering moving the FMD facility onshore so as to free up Plum Island. Why am I not reassured that all this is strictly in the nature of defense? Why do I suddenly feel like a penned animal awaiting whatever highly infectious disease might be thrown my way?

There are five mainland sites being studied by DHS: Athens GA, Flora MS, Manhattan KS, Butner NC and San Antonio TX. I think we can safely discount the San Antonio possibility since Bush would never seriously risk harm to Texas beef.

Here's the GAO's concern: the 2002 Agricultural Dept study that Bush is relying on only addressed whether it was technically feasible to do the research onshore. Given the potential for human error at such a facility, this seems a highly selective criterion. Regardless of the degree of technology, all research labs are subject to human error, lack of proper maintenance, equipment failure and deviations from the pristine standard operating procedures.

One danger of working with these viruses is that they can be carried in the labworkers lungs, nostrils, clothing, vehicles, etc, making all facility employees a possible mode of transport for virus escape. Employees are not even allowed to have or be in contact with pets or visit zoos while they are working at the facility. Other methods of transmission include mosquitos, bats, birds, even ticks! There is some evidence that Lyme Disease was manufactured on Plum Island and accidentally spread 9-miles away to Old Lyme, Connecticut (the place the disease was first identified & named for).

After a 1978 accidental release of FMD into cattle holding pens on Plum Island, the United States only avoided international quarantine and mass livestock slaughter on the mainland because it was confined to the island. As it is, the whole island had to incinerated, every living thing, in order to contain it.

Leaving aside the moral issue of continuing Plum Island at all, isn't it just plum crazy to consider risking mass exposure to FMD and who-knows-what-other viruses being researched by moving such a facility onshore?


Here's a 3-minute overview by John Siegenthaler Jr, Associated Press:

Government research on the feared foot-and-mouth virus research facility moving from isolated Plum Island, N.Y. to a site on the mainland. The question is if the virus escaped, could an outbreak be contained? from April 2008 ...


If you're interested in seeing more about Plum Island and have the time, here's a longer report from July 2007 (30-minutes):

VVH-TV News Chief Investigative Reporter Karl Grossman interviews author Long Island native and lawyer Michael Christopher Carroll about his work on "Lab 257" taking us on a shocking journey inside the notorious Plum Island biological research facility. Carroll spent five years researching this highly detailed and powerful account of the secretive government installation that sits just off the coast of some of New York's prime real estate, an installation that has had its share of meltdowns, mishaps and downright scary security breaches, including two known releases of deadly viruses into the air.

Owned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Plum Island lies just off the coast of the North Fork of Long Island. This otherwise uninhabited, woodsy island has a long history of controversy and secrecy, as Carroll so intricately details, and just may have put the millions of residents of the Tri-State area in utter danger of exposure to fatal animal diseases, including Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus, and even anthrax, time and time again.

VVH-TV News attempted to have an interview with officials from the Department of Homeland Security but were denied.


**** UPDATE: Click here for quick news summary of the hearing conducted today. It was closed-door, not shown on C-Span or anywhere else. Transcript text/video won't be officially available for 90-days.

20 comments:

Fran said...

Holy Crap!

enigma4ever said...

holy fucking crap- this is insane- and NO it was of course not on cspan...this is sooooo stupid...

BTW the "virus' that is killing kids in China is Foot-in -Mouth- BUT BUT they say it is different...but it is nothing to worry about...oye..

You are in the Friday Round up...

D.K. Raed said...

Fran:
nothing holy about it!

Enigma:
I thought it strange it only made the little bottom-of-the-screen scroll, no real news. I know 5 places I WON'T be moving!

Now, if China has Foot-IN-Mouth, maybe it IS different from Foot-AND-Mouth (which I remember used to be called Hoof-And-Mouth). But if it's already jumped to humans there, we better hold on tight.

Cart said...

I'm looking forward o tat story breaking here FIM is panic territory on this isolated isle.
The threat is more about perception than any real danger. Still, always good for a panic.

DivaJood said...

Welcome to Fear Burger. Can I have your order?

I'd like a Mad Cow Burger, with a side of fries.

Look, we've got a special on Foot and Mouth Disease, two for the price of one, plus a free drink. Anthrax is extra, though.

D.K. Raed said...

Cart:
You are probably pretty safe from Plum Island "experiments" on the other side of the globe, so no Plum Island FMD for you. However, there is NEVER any shortage of FIM, always enough for EVERYone, hahah!

Or maybe you've got your own version of Plum Island, some isolated place where they conduct animal virus testing? And hey, no kidding, if there is even a whisper about FMD there, I bet all your sheep ranchers would seal themselves up tighter than a medieval manor during the black plague ... probably do just as much good, too.

D.K. Raed said...

Diva:
Holy cow, what is the world coming to if I have to pay EXTRA for my Anthrax?!? Oh wait, I see I can exchange my side of fries for West Nile Virus. That'll have to do. But I'm gonna go complain to management as soon as I find my hazmat suit.

DivaJood said...

DK, that West Nile Virus Salad is a dandy. You could also have Ebola Slaw.

D.K. Raed said...

Yum tasty, Diva, LOL! How do they get Ebola to stick to cabbage? Spray-on or mixed w/the mayo? I hear the Rift Fever Onion Rings are a HOT item. especially if smothered in Cholera Catsup.

DivaJood said...

Oh, yummy. Cholera Catsup. Think of all the things to eat, courtesy of Plum Island.

an average patriot said...

I saw this, this morning but didn't read it so thanks! That is pretty screwed up. It is safe on the island leave it there. Why are they moving it? Hoof and Mouth is nothing to screw with.
Why do they have to move it Stateside? We are supposed to trust Homeland security? That Georgia farmer says if it is safe they can put it near him. Good you got it! Why are all the proposed sites critical farming areas? Do they have an ulterior motive?
By the way Red have a nice Memorial Day weekend!

D.K. Raed said...

Avg Patriot:
Unfortunately, that GA farmer represents too many trusting people's attitudes. If even ONE cow on the mainland is dx'd w/FMD, all intl meat exports immediately cease until the extent can be verified.

You ask a good question about the 5 proposed sites. I don't know but suspect those are FED lands EPA'd in some prior yr, so they think it would be easy.

I promise I will be by to see you this weekend. I've been playing hostess, but that ends tomorrow.

Cart said...

DK, we tried an island with the next generation rabbit toxin. Somehow it escaped in the first few days and spread through the country. Of course no one complains when out fluffy bunnies fall down dead.
But more worrying was a patient a freind of mine nursed here. She was a research scientist who contracted JCD - Jacob-Creutzfeldt disease or mad cow disease.
It was in a local ag research lab, no island. In fact there are few islands around this country I'd wish these sort of pathogens on.

an average patriot said...

Red
I studied Hoof and Mouth as part of my agricultural training and Diploma. It is no joke and these idiots better realize what they're dealing with because they screw everything up! I know you'll be by when you can just take care of yourself. So you are going to have a quiet Memorial Day great enjoy!

D.K. Raed said...

Cart:
that's what I hate about messing with nature. first non-native rabbits are imported & they take over, then man has to devise rabbit toxin, then it "somehow" escapes (maybe I am too cynical in doubting the method of disbursal?).

And yes JCD is no joke. Our beef industry stds have become so lax, we can no longer say for sure we're not all ticking time bombs for that, given another decade or so. What better way for our govt to solve its social security pension problem?

Avg Patriot:
I should've realized you'd be familiar with FMD. Maybe you know why they are now calling it foot-and-mouth vs the way I remember it as hoof-and-mouth? Because I tell ya, it's got me thinking about the possible animal-to-human viruses they're working on, hence the name change to "foot". Hope your Mem Day weekend is good, too!

Utah Savage said...

For a minute there the back and forth between you and Diva were making me hungry. You women scare me. Now I'm wondering what really is in my Chili Cheese Dip.

Mauigirl said...

Thanks so much for publicizing this! I didn't know they were even considering such a crazy idea. It would be insane!

D.K. Raed said...

UT S: maybe they'll open up a Plum Island Restaurant soon. Take a nice boat ride out on a sunny day & scarf down on "homemade" goodies, produced with "free range" animal products. Like a Botulin Blue Plate Burger special. Chili Cheese Dip has enough preservatives to make it a biohazard without any further add'ns, but maybe a sprinkling of grilled lyme ticks over broiled bacteriophage bread would be good for dipping.

MauiG: insane is our middle name! Watch out up there in your area which has already seen its share of toxic dumps. Don't let them drive any of this stuff through on its way down to the proposed mainland facilities.

goatman said...

Wonder if there any plums?

This is the first I've heard of this (I can get only C-Span). Will have to pay more attention.

Perhaps cooler heads will reign after the election. One could only hope so.

D.K. Raed said...

Goatman:
Thanks for stopping by! I recall seeing you at Utah Savage. As bad as Plum Island is, I wish it was the only thing we had to pay attn to. Hmmm, any plums were probably incinerated during a clean up of one of their prior accidents. One thing for sure, I wouldn't eat anything grown on that island.