July 27, 2009

Report: Virus lab in tornado-prone area

Washington used a flawed study to select a tornado-prone area of Kansas for a $700 million infectious-pathogens biosecurity lab, a government report says.

The Department of Homeland Security's analysis was not scientifically defensible in concluding Kansas or any other U.S. mainland location could safely handle dangerous animal diseases, the Government Accountability Office said in draft report obtained by The Washington Post.

The department -- whose responsibilities include protecting U.S. territory from terrorist attacks and responding to natural disasters -- used unrepresentative accident scenarios, outdated modeling and inadequate information, greatly underestimating the chance of accidental release and major contamination from lab research, the GAO report said.

Such research has been conducted only on remote Plumb Island, N.Y., off the northern tip of Long Island.

The site-selection criticism comes as the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, proposed for Manhattan, Kan., was expected to win construction funding in the congressional appropriations process.

Homeland Security officials had also considered Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas locations.

The GAO also criticized Homeland Security for downplaying the proposed facility's risks, the Post reported.

Department officials met privately with congressional staff members to try to convince them the GAO report was unfair, the Post said.

But the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., decided otherwise and plans to hold a hearing Thursday on the risk analysis, the Post said.