The controversy surrounding the proposed bio lab in Butner has been going on for almost a year now ("Buying the farm," by Lisa Sorg, July 23). Nearby residents have been bombarded by claims that the lab will be "safe," "secure" and "state of the art."
However, a look at the safety record of similar facilities reveals a disturbing history of decaying infrastructure, infected workers and escaping germs.
The Plum Island Animal Disease Center off the coast of New York was the scene of releases of foot and mouth disease due to a combination of "human error, lack of proper maintenance, equipment failure and deviation from standard operating procedures."
At Plum Island's "sister lab," the Pirbright facility—"located in a farming community on the mainland of the United Kingdom," an accidental release of foot and mouth disease resulted in the slaughter of more than 6 million animals and the loss of billions of dollars to the local economy.
In 1979, an accidental anthrax release at Sverdlovsk, in the former Soviet Union, resulted in the deaths of "at least 64 people." As forensic anthropologist Jeanne Guillemin observed, "Whatever the risks that emanated from its laboratory, not all Svedlovsk citizens shared them equally." A similar inequity in the "burden of risk was carried by the little communities near U.S. and British BW facilities during World War II and after, in places like Vigo, Ind.; Pine Bluff Ark.; Frederick, Md.; and the Scottish village across from Gruinard Island."
For those who would have to live with the consequences of an accident, the benefits of National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility—economic and otherwise—are not worth the risks.
Lynn Mitchell Kohn