According to a a report by the National Research Council, Plum Island will should remain open but is in need of major renovations if it is to remain a biosafety level 4 facility.
The report states that it is “imperative” that the U.S. build a large-animal biocontainment laboratory to protect animal and public health and that two options that could meet long-term needs include the National Bio– and Agro–Defense Facility (NBAF) facility as currently designed, or a scaled-back version tied to a distributed laboratory network. Until such a facility opens that is authorized to work with highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease, the Plum Island Animal Disease Center located off Long Island should remain in operation to address ongoing needs. The report concludes that there are important drawbacks for the U.S., should it rely solely on international laboratories to meet large animal Biosafety Level 4 needs in the long term.
The proposed NBAF in Manhattan, Kan., would be the world’s fourth Biosafety Level 4 laboratory capable of large animal research and would replace the aging Plum Island facility. NBAF would study highly contagious foreign animal diseases — including foot-and-mouth disease, which affects cattle, pigs, deer, and other cloven-hoofed animals — as well as emerging and new diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people. However, given the estimated cost of $1.14 billion to construct NBAF at the proposed site and the country’s current fiscal challenges, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security requested that the National Research Council analyze whether three options could meet the nation’s laboratory infrastructure needs.
The three options as stipulated by DHS were: constructing NBAF as designed, constructing a “scaled-back” version of NBAF, and maintaining current capabilities at Plum Island Animal Disease Center. Because the Plum Island facilities do not have large animal Biosafety Level 4 capacity — containment of agents that are potentially life-threatening to humans and pose a high risk of transmission — this type of work would have to be conducted at foreign laborato