Neither KSU faculty nor most other working people were able to participate in the NBAF comments meeting Jan. 27 — at the beginning of a normal teaching day. On Fridays, I have a 7:30 a.m. class followed by a 9 a.m. meeting, so I could not attend.
If the NBAF committee had really wished to receive comments from the public as well as from working KSU faculty, it could easily have scheduled the meeting on an evening at the firehouse nearby, the conveniently accessible site of so many other similar meetings. The simplest conclusion, therefore, is that the group in charge of orchestrating this charade was not all that serious about making the meeting easily accessible to the elderly, to members of the general public or to KSU faculty.
The essential scientific argument against building the NBAF here is centered on the statistical likelihood of an escape of hoof and mouth (H&M) disease virus. However, no manufacturer of a “laminar flow biological safety cabinet” — the primary piece of equipment used routinely in our KSU labs, the BRI and the NBAF to prevent contaminating microorganisms from entering or escaping — would say that there is NO chance of a virus release, but only that the chance is very, very low.
Well, that likelihood can be as low as sponsors of the NBAF here would like to make it, because it only has to happen once. And it is as likely to happen during the first hour that hoof and mouth virus is used as during the lab’s 25th year. The effects in either case would be the same: the required euthanization of all livestock within a very large radius around KSU and the already predictable responses by Japan and other markets for Kansas beef.
The scientific logic supporting the placement of an NBAF here therefore is deeply flawed. The NBAF could easily be placed at a variety of sites along (or off) the East Coast, where prevailing winds would blow any virus released out to sea. That was and still is the logic for choosing Plum Island. Such a site could be as easily defended from terrorists as any lab here. At remote coastal sites, few people would routinely travel close to the lab, in sharp contrast to the KSU site, which is amazingly only a few hundred yards away from parking lots full of football fans on fall Saturdays. Thus, to place the NBAF here, in the middle of cattle country, is like building a brand-new, very safe fireworks factory right in the middle of an oil refinery.
The scientific logic underlying the KSU NBAF is that the risk of a single release of hoof and mouth virus is very, very low. The flaw in that logic is the lack of consideration given to the already predictable, instant, long-term consequences of such an incident, accidental or willful. Yes, it would only take one malicious person in the NBAF to perform one bad action and the future of the Midwest would be changed in a heartbeat.
Instead, let’s look for other, less dangerous ways to create jobs and funding for Kansas than thinking that the laws of scientific logic do not apply here or that they can be re defined.
Gary Conrad, 610 Fairchild Terrace, is a professor of Biology at KSU. He writes as a private citizen, not a spokesperson for KSU.