Scientists Warn on Bush Bioweapons Push
Mar 28, 6:52 PM (ET)
By PAUL ELIAS
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A Bush administration program to add at
bioweapons labs is troubling many scientists and arms control
say it can't be good to train more microbiologists in the black
The field is suddenly awash with billions of dollars to combat
and much more is promised under President Bush's Project BioShield
money will fund a building boom of at least three new airtight
where scientists in space suits handle the world's deadliest
At least six universities and the New York State Department of
competing for contracts to build one or two labs, where scientists
infect research monkeys and other animals with such lethal agents
Ebola, Marburg and Lassa viruses. Those African hemorrhagic diseases
often fatal and always painful, marked by severe bleeding.
They'll also likely create new classes of toxins - including
engineered ones - as part of the process of constructing weapons
to defeat. Developing antidotes or vaccines for those toxins
"It's perversely increasing the risk of exposure," said Richard
Rutgers University chemistry professor and bioweapons expert
one additional lab is all that is needed.
Ebright and others believe labs managed by universities could
secure than government facilities, which have had their own security
Many believe the anthrax attacks that killed five people and
paralyzed Capitol Hill in 2001 were launched by a scientist with
one of the government's high-security facilities - called Biosafety
labs, or BSL-4 for short.
Federal investigators searched a former apartment of one such
microbiologist, Steven Hatfill, but never stated publicly that
he was a
suspect. Hatfill has denied involvement.
In his state of the union speech in January, President Bush called
nearly $6 billion to make vaccines and treatments against potential
bioterror pathogens. The National Institutes of Health bioterrorism
meanwhile, has increased 500 percent this year to $1.3 billion
- a large
part of which will be used to build at least three labs.
Government officials and leaders of universities vying for the
largesse are unapologetic.
NIH officials say that only two of the five U.S. facilities equipped
work are effectively in use today, and they're overburdened.
One is at the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta
- the only
place in the United States that handles live smallpox.
The other full-scale lab is the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute
Infectious Diseases at Maryland's Fort Detrick. The government
going ahead with additional labs at Fort Detrick and in Hamilton,
"What we have is not adequate to meet the current biodefense
Rona Hirschberg of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
Officials said they don't know how many scientists work in the
labs, but that the number is tiny and many more trained researchers
One of the byproducts of such endeavors will be the study of
diseases like the West Nile virus, which has infected 4,000 people
"The emerging diseases that we have to deal with are intense,"
Hinshaw, provost of the University of California-Davis, which
hopes to build
one of the new labs. "The public health need is very large."
But mistrust runs deep, especially in the California college
town of Davis.
Lobbied intensely by vocal residents, the city council voted
to oppose the
school's application to build a lab.
The Davis protests reached a crescendo in February with the escape
of a lab
monkey, which is still missing. Davis officials said it was disease-free
probably now dead. Still, the school's $200 million bid for a
BSL-4 lab has
Government officials insist that the labs will be secure and
defensive purposes. But the U.S. military has a history of dabbling
biological agent programs that push up against a 30-year-old
treaty banning them.
Most recently, it was revealed that researchers at the Dugway
in Utah have been developing anthrax for use in testing biological
On the Net:
UC Davis: http://www.ucdavis.edu
Lab opponents: http://www.simpalife.com/stopUCDBioLabNOW/contact.html
NIH Biodefense Research: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/biodefense
Fort Detrick: http://www.usamriid.army.mil
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