Photos: 1st photo is an Aerial Photo of the Lab Complex in question and 2nd Photo is the Keiller Building. Consider this explaination from Dr. Mike Holland, Director of CERES (Coalition for Environmental Responsibility and Education through Synergy)  “Here is the lab in question from Google map (marked “A” in blue pointer. Google has a street view at position of little person to left of Keiler; the photo view is below this aerial ). Note the Google location for the Keiller building puts it in the terra cotta colored roof to the north, but I suspect, by the number of fume hood vents on and shadows of vents coming out of the more modern building just to the south, that the BSL -4 is there, instead”. Thanks to Dr.Holland for the photos and explaination.

Serious questions are surfacing concerning the havoc Hurricane Ike may have caused at the Shope Laboratory and the National Bio-Containment Facility in Galveston, Texas. What happened depends on what sources you read.  Would they really destroy pathogens thus destroying research. The skeptic in me says something smells fishy and it ain’t the ones that were washed ashore. The Biodefense Barbecue asks some very serious questions which if I lived near the facilities I would want some answers.

•Why did it apparently take several days to restore emergency power to the BSL-4s, and how long would it have taken if Ike had been a category 3, 4, or even 5 storm? This is, after all, one of the three most dangerous disease agent collections in the United States.

•What building systems are kept online by emergency power? Does the emergency system keep disease samples in the BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs frozen and is it capable of maintaining negative air pressure in the BSL-3/4 zones (and powering the BSL-4 “space suit” air supply systems) ?

•UTMBhas brought tens of thousands of pounds of dry ice onto the island to maintain samples frozen. If any of this dry ice is destined for BSL-3 and/or BSL-4 labs, can the freezer packs be replenished safely? That is, without loss of negative pressure and without other issues, e.g. carbon dioxide buildup in sealed places.

•What is the actual status of the so-called “Galveston National Lab” BSL-4 terror facility? UTMB’s web site last reported on it several days ago and stated that it is intact “as far as we can see”, suggesting only an exterior appraisal has been performed.

•What is the status of the Keiller Building, which contains a BSL-4 lab (the “Shope Lab”), and whose basement was flooded? What building and labs systems were compromised by the flooding, and did water intrude into higher stories?

•How many experiments were prematurely terminated due to Ike, how many animals sacrificed, and what was the cost of these experiments to taxpayers? If an emergency hurricane shutdown like this is necessary once a year or more, what are the impacts on the scientific and fiscal efficiency of the labs?

•What are the direct costs of this shutdown and recovery effort of the terror labs?

Then you have CNN reporting  that;

Workers at a Galveston, Texas, laboratory said to contain dangerous biological agents secured the pathogens Friday ahead of Hurricane Ike, officials said.

The pathogens, which include the deadly ebola virus, were purposely destroyed before the staff left the facility in advance of the hurricane, said Gov. Rick Perry’s spokesman, Andrew Barlow.

But a former student who worked at the Level-III laboratory while the Level-IV facility was being constructed and who knows the manager, said she would be surprised if all of the pathogens had been destroyed, since some of them are rare and extremely valuable.

The facility is the World Health Organization‘s center for research on arboviruses, such as ticks and mosquitoes, and tropical disease work, said the student, who asked not to be identified.

It also holds ebola virus and fever-causing lassa virus, sometimes-fatal hantaviruses and anthrax bacteria, she said.

She added that all Level-IV laboratories are designed to ensure they can withstand hurricanes, and because of its location, special care was taken with the laboratory in Galveston.

Finally we have the Institute for Southern Studies reporting the obvious contradictions concerning the pathogens;

The Robert E. Shope Laboratory is located in the Keiller Building on the sprawling University of Texas Medical Branch campus in Galveston. The basement of the Keiller Building flooded during the storm, but UTMB reports there was no loss of biocontainment or biosecurity. All labs were decontaminated and secured prior to the storm, with all infectious agents stored in proper containers, according to UTMB.

However, UTMB’s statement contradicts claims by state and federal officials that the lab’s pathogens were destroyed before Ike hit. For example, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s spokesperson told CNN that the lab’s pathogens were purposely destroyed before the staff evacuated the facility. Officials with the Department of Homeland Security also told the network dangerous materials were destroyed.

But there have been security problems at the Shope lab before. In January of this year, for example, the lab was temporarily shut down after an internal security door failed twice. The door was in a lab holding mice that had been exposed to the deadly and highly contagious bird flu virus.

Clearly Mother Nature doesn’t care about bio-containment and these type of events do happen and can only be prepared for not prevented. The Environmental Impact Statements that are prepared for these scenarios are only a guide and are only as good as the science and data used in preparing them. The thing about this incident that concerns me the most at this point is whether or not any infected insects used in the BSL-4 research program were released. Due to the fact this is a DHS facility I do not foresee that information forthcoming.

An aside note a little closer to home to consider can be found in the NBAF DEIS prepared for Butner. The study did not include any information pertaining to the 1996 Hurricane Fran event and it’s affects on Butner thus no modeling for area specific flooding, power interruptions etc. were considered in the report nor was it evaluated for risk modeling. The NBAF is also slated to have an Insectary.

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