Where's the best place for a new high tech biodefense lab? MIssissippi, where else?

We've argued before that the US biodefense laboratory effort -- whose planning principle seems to be based on "more" -- was making us less safe, not more safe. Whatever else you say about the anthrax attacks, they are a perfect illustration of this. The weapon and the culprit(s) came directly from the US weapons labs. A case of blowback if there ever was one. But the Bush administration, undeterred, wants to keep building these facilities. The highest level of containment for working with the most dangerous agents for which there is no vaccine or cure (BSL4 labs) were four in number in 2002. Now there are 15. Labs designated BSL3, despite their slightly lower level of containment, often handle even more dangerous agents like SARS, 1918 and avian influenza and anthrax. No one knows exactly how many there are but at the end of last year the GAO counted over 1350. When Boston University was chosen for one of the BSL4 facilities the main rationale was that Boston was the epicenter of world class biological scientists, not just at BU but Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Brandeis, Boston College, University of Massachusetts, Northeastern, etc., etc. Pretty impressive. But the government needn't have bothered, especially as the neighborhood around the laboratory wants it about as much as they want a stink bomb factory. Because now they have proposed putting another mega laboratory to look at animal diseases in Flora, Mississippi:

The Mississippi location is among five finalists under consideration for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. The $451-million lab will replace an existing facility on Plum Island, off New York's Long Island, for studies under secure conditions of dangerous and potentially costly animal diseases.

The other four finalist sites are Athens, Ga.; Butner, N.C.; Manhattan, Kan.; and San Antonio, Tex. All five are located near and are supported by universities that would participate in the research. The department is expected to pick one of the sites by October.

Government experts worried that the proposed site in Flora, 20 miles northwest of Jackson, Miss., was located far from existing biodefense-research programs and lacked ready access to qualified scientists, the AP reported. Evaluators ranked the site 14th among 17 candidates. (Other host institutions that failed to make the short list included the Universities of Missouri at Columbia and Wisconsin at Madison.) (Chronicle for Higher Education)

I'm sure there were other good reasons to choose Mississippi, though. Reasons like this:

The AP suggested that the department's inclusion of an industrial park in Flora, Miss., stemmed at least in part from the clout of two lawmakers from that state. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, and Sen. Thad Cochran, a Republican, are senior members of Congressional panels that oversee the agency.


Mr. Thompson graduated from Tougaloo College and Jackson State University, both of which belong to a consortia backing the Mississippi site. Representative Thompson, who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told the AP he had not discussed the finalist sites with Mr. Cohen, but the AP reported that in fact he did, at least twice since February 2007.

I'm not going to complain that this crass cronyism puts national security at risk because I never thought the whole stupid biodefense non-program had anything to do with with national security in the first place. Unfortunately, like a lot of unthought out incompetently implemented of this administration it's not just a waste of money but something that actually endangers us. It's not clear highly contagious animal viruses like foot and mouth disease (FMD) formerly done at the Plum Island laboratory in New York can safely be worked on anywhere on the mainland.

Well, maybe Flora, Mississippi. What could happen there?

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Dr. Revere,

I apologize for posting this obviously irrelevant comment to this latest blog of yours. However, the last time you discussed AI was 8\6. And I came across an idea proposed on Scott McPherson's blog yesterday that seemed so promising to get the Indonesian Health Ministry's attention and get it to return to the fold of responsible behavior, I presumed to place my comment here, since it might not have gained much attention on the 8/6 posting. If you feel this irrelevant posting abusive, please let me know, and I will consider myself duly reprimanded, and desist from the manuever in the future. If you can excuse the irrelevance based on the proposal's merit, I would be grateful. I take this chance because of the respect I hold for you and your readership, that if it seems an appropriate effort to undertake, this would be a most influential forum in which to propose it:

I've been following the daily postings at many of the flublogs for a couple years now, but still consider myself a newcomer, deferring to the far greater experience and knowledge of both the flubloggers and their readership. Only for the first time, yesterday, did I see on Scott McPherson's site (see below), what I felt to be a brilliant suggestion for a tactical response to Indonesia's petulant and threatening policy of withholding vital information on the progress this enemy of all mankind is making, where I posted a supportive comment.

Scott says he's mentioned the idea before, but apparently the WHO has not acted (or perhaps has not received the suggestion to act) upon it, or perhaps has not received enough pressure to acquire the political fortitude to do so.

The situation (and the stakes) have risen significantly with these last reports of the 3 deaths and 13 illnesses, possibly related to AI. If they are indeed related to AI, then the probability is that there has occurred another episode of localized (we hope) H2H transmission (as opposed to each case resulting from individual contact with a sickened chicken - for which there has been a concurrent and sudden exacerbation and die-off). With this episode, we continue to be confounded by the Health Ministry's (Supari's) perversely obstinate and defiant demonstration of non-cooperation, reducing the respected scientific bodies of the rest of the world to frustratedly hope for secondary information to seep out and around this craven "iron curtain" of information black-out.

In the face of this most recent worrisome event and unanswered questions about its significance, Indonesia demonstrates that it means business in adhering to its extortionist position. It has come to the point where even Pro-Med has so discounted information coming out of Indonesia, that it will no longer carry reports of AI activity there, as it will not put its professional reputation at the mercy of this type of unreliable non-reporting. No doubt, Indonesia's efforts to remove the U.S.'s NAMRU-2 from its borders, is one more convincing act confirming their adherence to this destructive policy.

Scott McPherson's tactical solution is both appropriate, commensurate, and most likely will be effective. WHO should immediately raise the AI pandemic threat to Phase 4, applied only to Indonesia. This is no different from the acceptable convention for quarantining any area during an identified outbreak of communicable disease, where the locale of symptomatic patients triggers a quarantine applied to a larger area of containment in the hopes that all not-as-yet-symptomatic, but infected individuals may be isolated to prevent further spread.

In this case, we have a country which is an acknowledge hot-spot for wide-spread and sporadically recurring incidents of known (so far) localized H2H transmissibility, which is actively hiding reports of further outbreaks (as you might expect an individual family to behave out of fear of isolation, with its economic and survival challenges).

For the WHO *NOT TO* quarantine Indonesia is an act of irresponsible dereliction of its duty to the rest of the nations who rely upon it as a coordinator of tracking and maintaining our best updated defenses against this world-wide invader, with whom the Indonesians have become, in effect, its accomplice.

WHO's continued efforts to determine the true status on the ground in Indonesia represents a capitulation to this sociopathic position, and they come off as enablers, tempting other countries fearing isolation, to adopt the same positions, some of which, already have. They're all playing for time, hoping that the eventual pandemic strain will emanate from someone else's country, saving them from the economic consequences of being "prematurely" stigmatized by too many localized episodes of transmission, which don't yet accurately reflect the presence of the ultimate pandemic strain.

I am posting this comment at several blogs that I visit daily in the hope that perhaps it will be passed on (even to more influential entities, like Pro-Med) to bring some pressure on WHO to adopt Scott's suggestion. I think such a move would effectively and quickly convince Indonesia to rejoin the international scientific community as a cooperative contributor, since being placed in a Phase 4 status would result in all the negative consequences their present information black-out is trying to avoid.

Putting it in Mississippi where there is no scientific infrastructure is begging for there to be problems. It isn't the senior scientists who will be designing, building, installing, servicing and running all the equipment, it is local labor.

This is a recipe for disaster. Political hacks use politics to trump scientific decisions which they are incapable of understanding.

It will be just like FEMA in New Orleans following Katrina, except they will be juggling vials of pathogens without treatment, vaccination or cure.

Well now hold on guys. If they got to build one Flora might not be such a bad choice if its got to be anywhere other than the moon or an island out in the Pacific. I think they should mount it with a nuke underneath it...Just in case.

Flora is about 150 miles to the south of Memphis. Its in the Delta as we call it here and its one of the few places that the Miss or Pearl Rivers dont flood. Its surrounded by bean fields, cotton fields and the population is close to that of the moon. Better than goddamn New York or Boston if something happens.

Ole Miss, MS. State have huge agriculture and bio facilities already nearby and they are handling hairy stuff too. Rust College and the aforementioned others are also in the nearby area. As for the area if something got out it would have to be fully airborne to become contagious to people. The approaches to this facility would be easily defended as you can see for miles and really, only an airborne assault could take it. They couldnt run fast enough to get caught if there was an assault on the place.... Too open, too remote and only one or two ways in or out. There are three military facilities nearby that train Army Rangers and AF Special Ops. They also train troops for their annual training and they could be on site in under 30 minutes. There is only one major road in, and a secondary road out. Its bounded by swamps to the west and a major river to the east.

This is the kind of swamp that you read about in the South that eats invaders.... Gators, caimans, cottomouths, eastern diamondbacks and copperheads ensure a natural barrier to those who might try to sneak in. I wouldnt want to try it myself.

As for the facility itself, I worked against this coming to Tennessee and I think it was heeded because frankly the guys in charge sometimes dont know the difference of a government project and whether you want it or not. My very smart neighbor senator now state majority leader said, "Whats a BSL-4 and whats the difference between that and a BSL-3?" That was a bit unnerving. After explaining, the package they were working on to bring it to Tennessee got lukewarm. But it certainly is better than having it in those huge population centers. If something happened, then only time and distance would be the defense for the state and federal governments to get to the facility to contain it. New York, they would have about 20 minutes at the max before it got out of hand. The population of Flora is only about 1500 and that is within my definition of acceptable losses if any are acceptable in something like this if and when something happens. Something will eventually happen by design as Revere points out but apparently New Mexico is out, as is the face of the moon. So Mississippi might not be so bad.

Better idea.. Dont build the damned thing in the first place. Otherwise, buy stock in Tylenol with codeine.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 12 Aug 2008 #permalink

Randy: Right. What better place for a lab on plant and animal diseases than an agricultural area. Sounds like a place that will attract the best scientific talent. I'd like to move there myself. Save on going out to eat.

They already have a helluva lot of the better veterinary schools and plants here in the South Revere..... Its the boonies though and maybe thats the reason?

Where would you suggest other than not at all?

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 12 Aug 2008 #permalink

I would think that the best scientifc talent would move anywhere to work in a state-of-art facility with state-of-the-art equipment with a chance to work on new and exciting stuff with other best and perhaps better scientists. Because revere doesn't buy into the biodefense program and because revere is a Bush-hater poor Mississippi is now taking the brunt of his hostility. And daedalus2u comment is as can be expected utterly ridiculous.

By pauls lane (not verified) on 13 Aug 2008 #permalink


would think that the best scientifc talent would move anywhere to work in a state-of-art facility with state-of-the-art equipment with a chance to work on new and exciting stuff with other best and perhaps better scientists.

You'd be wrong.

I guess we'll see if they build it....

By pauls lane (not verified) on 13 Aug 2008 #permalink

Pauls Lane exhibits the teenage ability to cleverly insert his prejudice conclusions into anonymous Internet posts without any evidence or reason! Woo, woo, here comes the clue train: next stop Pauls Lane! Since you frequently assert absurd conclusions in your posts on a wide range of topics that you self-profess to understand little to nothing about (like science) why do you post on a science blog? Did you really read the text or did you just skip to the comments section and troll for literary cannon fodder?

Thanks for pointing out to the rest of us that an anonymous commentator (like yourself) has posted "ridiculous statements"; since you appointed yourself the Arbiter of Literary Judging I'd like you further your hornors with a cone-shaped hat and to humbly offer to polish that mirror you yell into right before you click "post".

You must like jabbing at people who have different opinions than you a lot. Where in the text does Revere: 1) blame Mississippi for anything 2)rant/tirade/mention President Bush? Revere must spend a considerable amount of time and effort each day to educate complete strangers about topics that interest him and whatever information he provides must be in consensus with established science and academics or risk losing credibility (which has not happened). Why do you assert that the text can be boiled down to Bush-hating and Mississippi-hating because Revere doesn't buy into the biodefense program, Pauls Lane?

Revere-As I said its not too far from Memphis and there is a mighty big brain trust at UT for bio, as there is U of Miss, St. Jude as well I could very well assume would have a part of this too.

If they wont put it on an island in the Pacific, and we dont want it near a huge population center I ask the question again ...Where would you put it? Mind now that you'll be going against that left wing Congress that funded it in both Republican and Democrat controls. But what the heck, they are just elected and they dont know what they are doing. In part I do agree.

And in reference to your response to Pauls.... I think that if their funding was going to be pulled at NYU in lieu of Mississsippi I would be packing my bags if I liked bugs. Its all about the funding Revere and if its not in New York or on the face of the moon, you know as well as I do you have to go someplace to get it. No one but just about the pharma guys or the government can fund this kind of research.

Bug Mecca in Miss? Its a concept but unless you have been there you might not know that you dont have to lock your doors at night. The trouble makers get pretty well thrown in jail and are back in 15 minutes after they get back out. Three time offender rule in Miss, you get caught on felonies and you can go to jail for life. Still have the title two laws as well, that means you get caught with dope you can still be sent up for a minimum of 30 years. Accountability.

You can fish, hunt, carry a gun without a permit generally but not hunt from the road. The only time you have to worry about your kids is when the storms come in and if they do something wrong its an unspoken rule that all of the kids get a spanking at the neighbors house and then get sent home. Then you get another one because you caused trouble at someone elses place. They go to school and learn yes ma'am and no sir first before they learn how to tie their shoes. Teachers give a shit about the kids and discipline is rarely a problem. Racial problems are things they have in the big cities and black and white kids and a few mex's ride the bus and play together. Average income in that county is 45,000 per year and but the average house size is 3800 square feet and the land hold average is 20 acres. They arent rich, but they are rich in the things that someone who is from the city might like. The towns are patrolled by the sheriff as a rule and speed traps are out on the freeway, 30 miles away. No need for local police although it gets kicked around periodically.

You can do the nightlife in Jackson, Greenwood or Memphis with a short drive. Or with a shorter one be into world class casinos in 45 minutes. There is no traffic, the air is clean, the water is pure artesian well and comes up cold as December. I was raised in a small town in Mississippi Revere and this one isnt much different from where I learned to respect people first and then get past the differences second. For your info, quite a few people from St. Jude that you either know or have heard of live in that town now. And you know, there are some serious research retards there.

Is it bias Revere or that you dont want them to build it at all?. If not there, again WHERE?

Yep, couldnt get a soul who wanted to move into that kind of lifestyle where they could live in a mansion on 20plus acres. Did I mention that it would come with a cotton, corn or bean crop on it that would fetch about 15,000 dollars per acre and all they have to do is watch it grow as farmers will lease it from them?

Its a little backward agreed. But you dont have to worry about getting shot up on the subway either.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 14 Aug 2008 #permalink

pity there aren't more adults with this 'teenage' ability CP..you don't have to be a scientist to identify crap either, if it looks like crap, smells like crap its probably crap...ever see a federal building, especially a defense building go up CP? Neither has daedalus2u apparently (this is in reference to my ridiculous statement). I never accused revere of hating Mississippi, I simply said Mississippi is taking the brunt of his hostility towards Bush. Perhaps you need to follow your own advise that you graciously posted and directed at me. Also revere is a Bush-hater, if you'd bother to read oh I don't know, two or three more of his postings you'd discover that. CP, let me give some quotes from revere's original text, pay attention now:
"But the Bush administration, undeterred, wants to keep building these facilities."
"Unfortunately, like a lot of unthought out incompetently implemented of this administration it's not just a waste of money but something that actually endangers us."
You'd have to re-read, and understand what you have read CP, the entire post again to put these quotes into their correct context but let me assure you, revere isn't overly fond of our current president.

By pauls lane (not verified) on 15 Aug 2008 #permalink

Hmmm, lets see, Mississippi has the second lowest teachers salaries in the US (50 out of 51) and 4th lowest expenditures per pupil (48 out of 51). That means low property taxes, just the thing to attract scientists and their families to live out in the middle of snakes and alligators.


Good thing the teachers are teaching the students something, but my opinion is that you need to know more than yes ma'am and no sir to design, build, service and operate a BSL-4 facility. But never having set foot in one, what do I know?

But I guess I shouldnt worry, according to the CDC, all you need to seal a BSL-3 lab is a enough duct tape.


I am sure that the local labor in Mississippi knows how to use duct tape, even the fancy schmancy BSL-4 rated duct tape that the CDC uses.

So Deadie you decided that the people in Mississippi are stupid, or that their teachers are bad? Most of them behave themselves, they dont rob, they dont use guns on each other because its legal to carry there. They dont have high property taxes, but they do have 5% income tax. Might be the reason that Honda and Toyota located their latest plants there? Yep, all them buck toothed backwoods types... dont need a brain to run a computer controlled robot. Hey, how bout them idiots over at Delco in Meridian that are making the computer modules for thousands of cars around the world. Yep, they cant be taught shit because they are tooo stupid.

Fact is Deadie Mississsippi is growing economically be leaps and bounds. The businesses had to leave the north with all of the automotive and higher tech jobs because the unions were doing all of the thinking for them...All those smart guys. Yep, you know all of those that are in the unemployment line now because they priced themselves out of a market and then asserted that they were the only ones that could do it.

And you are right UMiss and MissState have some damned fine law schools and engineering depts. Popping them out like donuts in fact and environmental service people. 46 out of 186 and they werent even on the chart last year.


I know Webster hates the South, thats the reason he has been here for nearly 30 years over at St. Jude. Webby too.

If you build it they will come..... Not that I want a bio lab anywhere else in the US but if they do it then it should be as remote as possible. Revere still hasnt though answered the question.... Where would he put it if the Congress decided to fund it?

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 17 Aug 2008 #permalink

Where would he put it if the Congress decided to fund it?

Randy, you keep asking and I keep forgetting to answer. My apologies. It's been frantic busy here.

First, do we need it? That's a question this administration doesn't ask. Its planning principle is "more" when it comes to biodefense labs.

Second, of all the places considered, on purely productivity grounds, do you seriously think that rural Mississippi is the absolute best place? It's not as if once you decide to build it (I question this but let's grant it) that all places are equally good. It is pretty clear that what this choice has is political influence. Given the slate of possibles, which included some world class scientific venues, why rural Mississippi? I think we know.

BTW, they do kill each other abnormally often in Mississippi. It is has the third highest homicide rate in the nation [2003 data] (source: http://www.benbest.com/lifeext/murder.html#usa)

No, I meant no disrespect to the people of Mississippi. I dont think they are stupid. It isnt stupidity that makes for dangerous operation of a BSL-4 facility, it is arrogance and especially the arrogance of ignorance. It is the arrogance of ignorance that causes people to cut corners. Not because it is safe to cut those corners, but because the ignorant in their arrogance believe they know when it is safe to cut those corners.

There are differences between making computer chips and building and operating a BSL-4 facility. If a computer chip making facility fails, the owners lose a bunch of money. If a BSL-4 facility fails, what gets released? Q-fever? Ebola? Smallpox? Maybe something worse? There are worse things than smallpox.

What is the biggest environmental contamination problem that the US has? It is the aftermath of the nuclear weapons programs of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Those facilities were built out in the middle of nowhere and the workers did come. Because they were out in the middle of nowhere, releases of radioactivity were not as much of a concern. Stuff was released because it was cheaper to release it than to keep it contained.

Who decided to cut those corners and release the radioactivity? Was it the long hairs doing the research, or the short hairs actually in charge of everything and who set the budgets? Who decided how much thinking would go into environmental considerations? The workers, or the brass who set the budgets and work schedules?

Who do you want thinking about and planning for environmental releases from a BSL-4 facility? People like Revere who know what they are doing, or brass who got where they are by saying yes sir and by polishing up that handle so carefully That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navy (apologies to HMS Pinafore).

Why bother with a scientific review if the politicians are just going to overrule it? Why bother submitting a proposal if it is DOA because of politics? When politics trumps science in the review process, submitting a proposal with good science becomes a fools errand; something that researchers who actually want to accomplish something wont bother with.

Deadie-Whats the diff? If the biggest cahoonies on the planet which are the CDC's consider the duct tape thing to be okay, maybe they could put the duct tape on in Flora too. I mean hell they put nukes in population centers. You guys keep on making sense and I am telling you its going to get you into trouble everytime. Revere would be the first to tell though that he doesnt want this anywhere near a population center. His argument is that they shouldnt be building yet another one... A position that I agree with. Got plenty that are fucking up already...near population centers and with some really gamey gook. Its also biowarfare level. As I always say, add water and shake. Meaning put it near a flood zone or near a quake area, both nukes and bio.

Revere-first I agree.... Dont need it and perhaps they should be getting new contractors at the CDC so we dont lose Atlanta...Mostly libs there anyway...Is that an acceptable loss? Hmmm....

BTW-Miss has a high rate of murders in the big cities. Its almost non-existent beyond that.


By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 17 Aug 2008 #permalink

Stopped reading at revere's last comment to MRK.
MRK honey, you know where I live, you and Victoria are the only ones who know.
We don't need another new high tech biodefense lab.