The Plum Island Animal Disease Center is in need of a major overhaul.
According to a new report by the National Research Council, there is an "imperative" need for the United States to build a large animal biocontainment laboratory to protect animal and public health.
Two options to meet that need, the report states, are to a new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility as currently designed, or a scaled back version.
But, the report states, until such a facility is opened authorized to work with highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease, Plum Island "should remain in operation to address ongoing needs."
Based on Plum Island's aging infrastructure, initial estimates for short-term improvements, including improvements in the liquid-waste decontamination facility, Plum Island and Orient Point harbors, information technology upgrades, utility and building upgrades, security hardening, detection and access control, and marine-vessel replacement and lighthouse restoration total approximately $90 million.
Rough estimates of the cost of long-term improvements if PIADC is required to maintain its existing mission and to continue operating for another 25 years total $210 million, the report states.
The report states that because the Plum Island facilities do not have large animal Biosafety Level 4 capacity -- or the ability to contain agents that are identified as potentially life-threatening to humans and pose a high risk of transmission -- that type of work would have to be conducted at foreign laboratories. The report also states that considerable drawbacks should be considered should the United States rely solely on international labs to meet large animal Biosafety Level 4 needs over the long term.
The proposed NBAF, which is to be sited in Manhattan, Kansas, would be the world's fourth Biosafety Level 4 level laboratory caple of large animal research and would replace the "aging" Plum Island facility, the report states. But, at an estimated cost of $1.14 billion and and the nation's economic climate, the Department of Homeland Security requested that the National Research Council analyze a number of options to meet the nation's laboratory infrastructure needs.
A third option would be to maintain the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, utilizing foreign laboratories to avoid the hefty costs of constructing a new replacement facility.
But, the report warns, the "aging" infrastructure and "facilities at Plum Island do not meet current standards for high biocontainment."
And, because foot-and-mouth disease research remains critical for the United States' animal health system, the reports says it would be essential to maintain the Plum Island facility until an alternative facility is authorized, constructed, commissioned, and approved for work with the virus.
DHS has previously stated that there are substantial costs associated with maintaining and operating PIADC over the long term, and a Biosafety Level 4 facility "could not be constructed" on Plum Island.
Due to the aging infrastructure at Plum Island, the report states that capital renovations and improvements must be made, no matter what option is selected down the line.