Design modifications to the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, under construction near Kansas State University, reduce the risk of an accidental release of dangerous pathogens to nearly zero, according to a Department of Homeland Security Updated Site-Specific Risk Assessment issued last month.
An earlier analysis had identified “major shortcomings” in the lab’s original design, but Homeland Security says revisions are designed to make the facility safe even in the face of natural disasters such as an earthquake or tornado.
The construction of NBAF in Manhattan, Kan., was slated to replace an older facility on Plum Island, N.Y., where highly contagious animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth are researched.
Ron Trewyn, vice president of research at Kansas State University, said the new calculations for an accidental release are “less than 0.11 percent (including events such as earthquakes and tornados) and less than 0.008 percent when catastrophic events are excluded.” But, Trewyn said, the risk for such projects can never be zero.
A previous risk assessment by the National Research Council suggested significant problems in the design could result in a nearly 70 percent chance over the 50-year lifetime of the facility that a release of foot-and-mouth disease
could occur, resulting in an infection outside the laboratory that could have an estimated economic impact of $9 billion to $50 billion.
Homeland Security said the most recent NBAF design plans incorporated recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences and that the updated SSRA satisfies congressional requirements for incorporating mitigation measures into the risk assessment and updating the analysis to allow for a cumulative risk calculation.