GNAT sums it up nicely.

“DHS must realize at this point that the whole concept of this lab needs to be revisited. The consequences of the accident scenarios are so catastrophic that I can’t imagine any public official is going to be reassured that the benefits outweigh the risks.”

Read their press release below or download a copy here.




For Immediate Release: June 26, 2008

Contacts: Ron Howell, G.N.A.T., (919) 474-1215 (day); (919) 554-6986 (evening),

Kathryn Spann, G. N. A. T., (919) 477-5653,

Hope Taylor , C.W.F.N.C., (919) 410-9600,

Homeland Security’s DEIS for Bio-Defense Lab Lacks Design Specifics Necessary to Assess Risks and Low-Balls Impacts

Agency Acknowledges Potential for Fatal Infectious Diseases to Escape and

Become Established in U.S. Mainland Environment

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a draft environmental impact statement (“DEIS”) for the proposed National Bio- and Agro- Defense Facility, or NBAF late last Friday. The long-awaited DEIS leaves area residents baffled by its omission of design renderings for the proposed facility. Judy Winters, a Butner resident and member of the Granville Non-Violent Action Team (GNAT), questions, “How can they determine the public and environmental consequences of the NBAF without having a final design in place to assess the risks posed by the features and systems of that design?”

Although the DEIS contains conceptual floor plans for two possible building designs, the document indicates that no designs have been prepared for review in conjunction with the EIS process. For example, Homeland Security has yet to decide the whether it will use incineration or tissue digestion and sewer disposal to dispose of the carcasses and infected waste from the 150 large cows or nearly 1000 pigs that could be the subject of the facility’s exotic-disease research.

A building as large as the NBAF, with such a complex and risk-intensive mission, will require many separate drawings of the designs for electrical, mechanical, wiring, security systems, water systems, waste treatment systems, and containment features, as well as the backup systems promised by Homeland Security, according to Ron Howell, a senior reliability engineer and architect with 24 years of experience in evaluating the reliability and probability of failure in technologically sophisticated facilities. None of these appear in the DEIS. Without designs reflecting which of these methods will be used, it is impossible to assess whether those systems will be adequate to ensure that the facility minimizes the threat to the public. Howell continues, “I expect the lab will ultimately use no more safety features than Homeland Security’s budget says they can afford. Safety systems are always the first to be cut out of budgets, and this one is already apparently underfunded, as reflected in the recent Congressional testimony.” To add to the budget woes, the DEIS indicates that the Butner site is the only one of the 6 that would need totally new infrastructure of all types: water, sewer, gas, electric and roads.

“If I were an operator at the wastewater treatment plant receiving the supposedly ‘pretreated’ waste from the NBAF,” says Hope Taylor , a former biochemical researcher who now directs the environmental justice group Clean Water for North Carolina , “I’d want to know the waste was treated repeatedly and tested by rigorous methods before it was released to my plant. Nothing in the DEIS indicates the facility will test wastes for all diseases at the NBAF before discharging to the local plant, or that those test results would be available right away to wastewater operators or the public.”

The substantive information in the DEIS about possible disease releases has reinforced community concerns about the facility’s risk. Rift Valley Fever (RVF) results in illness in 90% of those exposed, and kills 1% of those who contract the disease.[1] It can be transmitted by mosquitoes and other biting insects, and affects livestock, household pets, wildlife, and humans. If the disease is released from the lab (which will also test the role of insects in spreading these exotic diseases), it could become permanently established in the insect and wildlife population across the country. The DEIS cited the spread of West Nile Virus as an example, but concluded that RVF established outside the lab would have “far more serious consequences.”[2] As RVF spread through the country, DHS estimates an economic impact exceeding $50 billion due to human and livestock deaths and the impact on public health, trade and tourism.[3]

The DEIS also acknowledges the high risk posed by a release of foot and mouth disease, which spreads very rapidly and can devastate the livestock industry. There is no cure for the disease, which can be carried on a person’s breath or clothes. Outbreaks are contained by slaughter and burning of potentially exposed animals. Until a provision was inserted in the recently-passed Farm Bill permitting foot and mouth research at the NBAF, research on the disease was banned by law from the mainland for many decades.

“We are baffled by the DEIS’s conclusion that the potential losses to the U.S. ’s livestock industry would top out around $4 billion,” said Kathryn Spann, a member of the GNAT group and the owner of an area farm. A 2001 foot and mouth epidemic in Britain devastated that country’s livestock industry, which is considerably smaller than that in the U.S. In its efforts to contain the spread of the disease, the British government slaughtered more than 6 million animals, shut down movement among farms, and halted meat and livestock exports. More than 9 months passed before the disease was contained. Economic losses reached $17 billion. North Carolina ’s agricultural industry comprises nearly one fifth of the state’s economy, and generates $66 billion a year.

GNAT members also expressed dismay at the shallow analysis of area characteristics. As Hope Taylor points out, “Homeland Security should have known that the local wastewater plant’s (SGWASA) permit is now under close scrutiny due to poor water quality in Knap of Reeds Creek and Falls Lake , Raleigh ’s drinking water supply, and that several new projects will soon restrict the plant’s available capacity.” Judy Winters noted that the facility would generate major traffic impacts. “If traffic on Range Road and Veasey Road is going to increase 500%, as the DEIS says, we really need to know what the impact will be in Butner and Creedmoor from all those cars coming from I-85.”

The DEIS does state that the NBAF is expected to employ fewer than 70 local residents, and will principally rely on researchers and operational staff from the existing facility in Plum Island .[4] Area resident David Krabbe expressed frustration, noting “Is all this risk worth 63 jobs?”

Ultimately, the final EIS must address not only the question of which location Homeland Security considers best for the NBAF, but whether the facility should be built at all. Says Taylor , “DHS must realize at this point that the whole concept of this lab needs to be revisited. The consequences of the accident scenarios are so catastrophic that I can’t imagine any public official is going to be reassured that the benefits outweigh the risks.”


[1] DEIS pages D-9 and 10.

[2] DEIS page D-12.

[3] DEIS pages D-13 and 14.

[4] DEIS page 3-291.