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Letter From The Editor: Moving Plum Island

Usually you risk getting arrested if you go some place where they want to see you naked and fondle you, but now you just have to go to the airport.

All the uproar in the last week about the Transportation Security Agency’s (TSA’s) bonehead screening policies had me thinking that this must be happening to draw attention away from something else. 


Why else would Homeland Security want to take such a beating with the media and lawmakers?   Then it dropped into my inbox.

The National Research Council says there is 70 percent chance of an outbreak of dangerous and contagious diseases if Homeland Security builds a $451 million National Bio-and Agro- Defense Facility in Manhattan, KS.

At issue is whether the “research facility” at Plum Island, NY should be moved to the heart of cattle country.   After World War II until not long after 9/11, Plum Island was on the books as a research unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Plum Island’s official mission was to study hoof and mouth disease, which was eradicated from the U.S.  in 1929.  Hoof and mouth disease, a highly contagious viral disease, could not be subjected to research on the U.S. mainland.  And for over 80 years, the U.S. cattle herd has been free of the disease.

Now if the Plum Island story ended there, the decision on whether to relocate the “defense facility” to Kansas might be easier.  

Instead, the federal government still has a lot of explaining to do about this Cold War chapter.   Some of what is definitely true sounds unbelievable, and separating out some of the claims may require an investigation with subpoena powers.

Fort Terry, an Army post, was located on Plum Island until it was closed after World War II. Plum Island was re-activated in 1952 for the Army Chemical Corps. 

It was supposedly turned over to USDA two years later.   Dr. Eric Traub, a German who worked on weaponizing the foot and mouth disease virus for the Nazis, figures prominently during these early years.

The Plum Island Animal Disease Center’s studies have included more than 40 foreign animal diseases and some domestic ones.  It continues to be the only lab with permits and equipment to study foot and mouth disease in the U.S.

Foot and mouth disease can spread quickly among cloven-hoofed animals and people who come into close contact with animals.

Plum Island supposedly has lots of these diseases stored in its deep freezers, including foot and mouth and polio.   That became a real concern in 1991 when power from the mainland to the Plum Island was cut off.  After that, Congress sprang for a back-up power system to keep those freezers going.

Since 2005, when Homeland Security announced it wanted to move the facility inland and give it a new name, some strange things have happened.  A couple of “Montauk Monsters” and at least one dead human have washed up on nearby shores.

The monsters were some sort of cross or hybrid animals, and the human or humanoid body had very long fingers with identifying finger prints and five holes drilled in its head.  No known species could be determined for the monsters.   Police won’t talk about the body.

This is some of the known-to-be true stuff.   Claims have been made, especially in books and movies, about anthrax.   It was called “Anthrax Island” in “Silence of the Lambs.”

Now as for whether Plum Island should be closed down so Homeland Security can relocate its known and unknown functions inland with a 70 percent chance of an outbreak in America’s heartland, excuse me for not feeling lucky.

If the NRC is correct and the 70 percent likelihood occurs, what’s it going to cost taxpayers?  Oh, $9- to $50 billion, says Homeland Security.  NRC says damages will be much higher.

In what has become an “industry, academia, government” complex, says former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. 

Congress should shelve this second Manhattan project, and close Plum Island.  Lighting a fire to everything in those deep freezers will make U.S. herds a whole lot safer than putting them on an Amtrak train to Kansas.

© Food Safety News