MU Offers Site for Homeland Security Lab

9 years 6 months 2 days ago March 29, 2007 Mar 29, 2007 Thursday, March 29 2007 Thursday, March 29, 2007 7:38:49 PM CDT in News

Biohazardous agents like mad cow disease and Avian bird flu could come to Columbia at a national bio- and agro-defense facility, or NBAF for short, among the rolling hills of waving grass on MU's farm property.

Joe Kornegay, the dean of MU's College of Veterinary Medicine, described the proposed facility as "a national labratory where, at least to some extent in all likelihood, some of the ongoing research on foreign animal diseases, a disease like foot-and-mouth disease, might be done."

The lab would cover about 12 acres, big enough for four of Jefferson City's Capitol buildings.

"The research that's done there will be on infectious diseases largely, but not just infectious diseases of animals, not just infectious diseases of humans, not just diseases that might spread from animals to humans, but the whole range of infectious diseases that can affect people or animals," Kornegay added.

The University of Missouri offered the South Farm site to replace the Department of Homeland Security facility on Plum Island just off New York's coast. DHS said there's not enough lab space at Plum Island for research and testing of accidental or intentional introduction of foreign animal diseases in the U.S.

DHS needs at least 30 acres for the replacement facility, but Kornegay said MU offered 100.

"Providing more land would give greater flexibility, perhaps not for today or 5 years or 10 years from now, but for the future," he explained

Those 100 acres are just 3 miles from campus. South Warren Road borders the proposed site on the west. A mobile home park and an elementary school are near the site's gravel access road. There's also a residential neighborhood beyond the trees on the site's east side. But, Kornegay said it's a perfect fit for the facility.

"Because of the strength of our program, the collaborative spirit of our faculty, the established relationships that exist between the university and key partners in St. Louis and Kansas City, we've got it all," he said. "We've get a medical school, we've got a veterinary school, we've got a very strong ag school. We fit to a 'T' what DHS is working to do through this new facility."

The University of Texas medical branch in Galveston began operating a regional lab in 2004 and is building a national lab.

"It's important that we develop ways to have counter measures to some of these bad bugs that we have no defenses for at the moment. No vaccines, no theraputics, no way to cure them and no way to treat them," said Kornegay. "It allows us to play an even larger role on the national and international scene in infectious disease research."

He also said the South Farm facility would employ 250 people, including 100 scientists.

So far, universities and others have offered 29 sites across the U.S. DHS will narrow that number to a short list in the fall, then complete environmental impact statements before selecting a site to start construction in 2009.

"We are early in the process," said Kornegay. "The DHS is extremely interested in insuring that there's community acceptance."

In fact, one of DHS's four criteria is community acceptance, although that could be hard to find in Columbia.

On Wednesday night, we'll review community opposition to a facility critics said will put Columbia at risk.

IFor more information about the proposed 500,000 square-foot NBAF facility, click on the link to the right of this story.

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