After more than a decade of controversy and delays, the nation’s most secure biosecurity lab to study potentially fatal animal and plant diseases has opened in Manhattan, Kansas.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Wednesday, but it will be more than a year before researchers at the $1.25 billion National Bio-Agricultural Defense Facility start studying biohazards, officials said. said.
In the meantime, staff will be conducting compliance and regulatory tasks, preparing protocols and operating procedures, and undergoing training before working with pathogens, the Topeka Capital Journal reported.
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“They will check all systems according to international and national standards,” said NBAF Director Alfonso Clavijo. “Only after that approval will we be able to actually do the work. We expect to have approval by late 2024.”
Originally estimated to cost $451 million, in 2010 the National Research Council questioned placing the facility in the heart of a farming country with a history of large and devastating tornadoes. Its price more than doubled after it released a report showing
Homeland Security officials said the increase in costs was partly due to changes to the lab’s design to reduce the chances of releasing deadly pathogens.
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The lab will replace a dilapidated facility on Plum Island, New York. Kansas officials fought hard to keep the lab alive until Kansas was elected in 2009, with several other states running to host the lab.
Originally, construction of the lab was scheduled to open in 2016, but was delayed several times due to economic problems, safety concerns and resistance from politicians who wanted the project in each state.
The facility in northeastern Kansas will be the nation’s only large animal biosafety level 4 laboratory, capable of working with pathogens for which there are currently no treatments or countermeasures.
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It’s unclear when the pathogens used in the study will be transferred from Plum Island to Kansas, and spokeswoman Katie Paulowski said no animals or equipment will be transferred.
The lab currently employs about 280 people and is expected to grow to more than 400 when fully staffed.