New National Biosecurity Laboratory opens in Kansas

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After more than a decade of controversy and delays, the nation’s safest biosecurity laboratory for research into deadly animal and plant diseases has opened in Manhattan, Kansas.

Although a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Wednesday, researchers at the $1.25 billion National Agricultural and Biodefense Facility are not expected to begin work on biohazards for more than a year, officials said.

For now, employees will perform compliance and regulatory work, set up protocols, operating procedures and training before working with any pathogens, the Topeka Capital Journal reported.

“They will check all systems according to international standards and national standards,” said NBAF Director Alfonso Clavijo. “And only after we get that approval will we actually be able to do any work. We expect that by late 2024, we should be able to get that approval.”

An initial cost estimated at $451 million, the price was doubled after the National Research Council published a report in 2010 that questioned the facility’s status in the heart of cattle country with a history of large and destructive hurricanes.

DHS officials said the cost increase came in part because the lab was redesigned to reduce the potential for deadly pathogens to be released.

The lab replaces an older facility in Plum Island, New York. Officials there struggled to maintain the lab, and several other states submitted bids to become the home of the lab before Kansas was chosen in 2009.

Originally expected to open in 2016, construction of the lab has been delayed several times due to economic problems, safety concerns, and resistance from politicians who wanted the project in their home states.

The Northeast Kansas facility will be the only Large Animal Biosafety Level 4 laboratory in the country, meaning it will be able to handle pathogens that currently have no treatments or countermeasures.

It’s unclear when the pathogens used in the research will be transferred from Plum Island to Kansas, and no animals or equipment will be transferred, spokeswoman Katie Pawlowski said.

About 280 people currently work in the laboratory, which is expected to house more than 400 people when it is fully equipped.

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