"Five years ago, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the facility at Plum Island was outdated," he said. "From the get-go that money was intended to be a temporary fix; there was never an expectation the improvements would do anything more than be a bridge to a new facility."
Recruiting scientists to work at the remote island — which played a role as the ruse to get fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter to cooperate with FBI trainee Clarice Starling in "The Silence of the Lambs" — has been a problem, DeHaven said.
"When you mix the high cost of living and the remoteness or where it is, we had problems with recruiting the best scientists," he said. Like others, he said concerns about contamination leaks at a new facility are overblown. "Bio-containment has improved greatly," he said, pointing to the CDC in Atlanta.
He said a new facility is needed somewhere, despite the cost of $650 million or more. "An outbreak of foot-and-mouth would impact our economy by that much in the first six hours," he said.
Besides the Homeland Security review, the National Academy of Science is amid a second review of the proposed Kansas site, focusing on concerns that the nation's heartland may not be a suitable location to study infectious animal diseases because of its proximity to so many cattle farms. When it was opened in the 1950s, the federal government chose Plum Island — the site of a former Army fort — because it was off the mainland.
In an earlier study, the academy identified a 70 percent chance that a release of foot-and-mouth disease could occur at the new lab during its projected 50-year lifespan. Damage to the livestock industry could total as much as $50 billion, officials have said.
Foot-and-mouth virus is so contagious it has been confined only to the Plum Island lab, where accidents have already happened.
The Bush administration acknowledged in 2008 that a release of the virus into cattle holding pens on Plum Island in 1978 triggered new safety procedures. The release was one of about a half-dozen accidents that have occurred at the lab, but the only one in which pathogens escaped into the atmosphere; the others were all confined. There was no known environmental impact, and there are no cattle farms on eastern Long Island.
The AP has previously reported that a simulated outbreak of the disease in 2002 — part of a government exercise called "Crimson Sky" — ended with fictional riots after the simulation's National Guardsmen were ordered to kill tens of millions of farm animals, so many that troops ran out of bullets.
In the exercise, the government said it would have been forced to dig a ditch in Kansas 25 miles long to bury carcasses. In the simulation, protests broke out in some cities amid food shortages.
The General Services Administration, which is charged with selling the island to defray the costs of building the Kansas lab, has repeatedly delayed its release of a draft environmental impact statement originally promised in summer 2010 and most recently expected at the end of January. No sale can take place until an environmental review and public hearings are held.
An administration spokesman did not respond to inquiries Tuesday to explain the latest delay.
Associated Press writers John Milburn in Topeka, Kan., and Alicia Caldwell in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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