I don’t read the NY Press often, but it’s great this week. This feature on the Plum Island research facility is the stuff of nightmares.
David thinks I’m silly for disliking our nation’s habit of putting nuclear reactors near population centers (not to mention rivers), but I hope he’ll agree that it’s really dumb to put a bioweapons (I mean, uh, anti-bioweapons) facility just a couple miles off the coasts of Long Island and Connecticut. And even dumber to have animals infected with zoonotic diseases hanging around outside (zoonotics, as I learned, are those diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans). But the height of idiocy is to allow sensitive work that had been done by carefully screened federal employees to be handed over to subcontractors.
In the summer of 2002, strife between federal workers and the subcontractors led to a strike; the already questionable workers were replaced with even iffier folk (including at least one worker with a criminal record). Somehow, as the work stoppage dragged on (amidst rumors of sabotage) all three backup generators on the site failed–the critical negative pressure seals began to deflate, and the fridges holding infected animal carcasses started to warm up.
Disaster was averted, but we’ve yet to see any public hearings on what happened, why, or how the government is working to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The NYT has run a few stories, but to no great public outcry.
Worst of all, the scientists who work at Plum Island are doing incredibly risky things (making, for instance, vaccine-resistant strains of anthrax) and publishing in scientific journals about their efforts. The author compares this to the US government running R&D for Al Qaeda, and you can see his point. It does also make one wonder just how coincidental it is that Lyme disease appeared suddenly just miles away in the Connecticut in the 1970s, and how West Nile popped up in the NY area in the 1990s (that, of course, was widely blamed on Saddam.)
No doubt the author of the article is a bit paranoid, but (as our motto attests) sometimes a bit of paranoia is healthy. With warnings like this, if heaven forfend something does get loose and reach the mainland, it will be our own fault. If it does, you can be sure that the government will conveniently “Aznar up” some terrorist organization as the culprit to hide the ugly truth that the US spent decades sowing the dragon’s teeth that threaten to spawn new disasters.