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Containment concerns persist at the proposed biosecurity lab in Kansas

The US government continues to underestimate the potential of a dangerous pathogen escaping from a proposed BSL-4 containment biosecurity laboratory, according to an independent report published today.

A panel convened by the country’s National Research Council (NRC) concluded that an assessment completed earlier this year by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) overestimated the danger posed by tornadoes and earthquakes but underestimated the possibility of a disease being released by human error at the $1.14 billion National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas, which is slated to replace a half-century-old lab on Plum Island, New York.

“The DHS has just not established the safety of this facility,” Tom Manney, a retired Kansas State University geneticist and a member of No NBAF in Kansas, a group against the proposed facility, told Nature Medicine. “It may well be safe, but their analysis and how they’ve cherry-picked their data, and their assumptions give a very distorted and inaccurate view of it.”

Manney also thinks that Kansas politicians are selectively reading the NRC report. In a joint statement, US Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both representing Kansas, together with the state’s governor, Sam Brownback, applauded the report’s authors for recognizing that the lab “would be a critical asset in securing the future health, wealth and security of the nation,” and they called on the DHS “to begin construction immediately.”

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