As Infamous Germ-Research Lab Moves West, What Happens to Plum Island?

National Archives

Plum Island has fascinated conspiracy theorists for decades. Weird and sinister speculation about the government's germ research on the 3-mile strip has spawned legends that only get better with age, like the alleged post-World War II recruitment of Nazi scientists to work there on a biological-weapons program, or the research conducted there that supposedly led to the spread of Lyme disease.

But now, there's a far different type of controversy spreading over Plum Island: how to use it after the Homeland Security Department packs up the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and moves west, to a new $1 billion lab in Manhattan, Kan.

Under a current budget-balancing plan, the federal government intends to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder, raising an estimated $32.8 million to offset a portion of the cost of the Kansas lab.

But on Wednesday, a group of New York and Connecticut members of Congress, joined by environmentalists, launched an effort to convince House and Senate appropriators to drop the sale.

These lawmakers from the Long Island Sound region—including Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, among others—argue in a letter to their colleagues that the environmental and ecological value of the island exceeds the estimated proceeds that could be raised by selling it. Instead, they want it turned over to the National Park Service or the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We need to proceed very carefully when considering the future of this environmental and ecological treasure," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. "We have a responsibility to ensure the protection and preservation of this national treasure, not only for those living near their shores, but for their children and children's children."

Of course, there's no disputing that Plum Island for years housed some of the most lethal bacteria known to humankind—organisms responsible for swine flu, foot-and-mouth disease, and other livestock ailments. The George W. Bush administration even acknowledged in 2008 that—20 years earlier—there had been accidents at the facility, including one in 1978 involving the release of highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease into the cattle-holding pens on the island.

And the House and Senate members arguing to keep Plum Island in federal government hands admit it might take millions of dollars to remediate after decades of germ-research use. But they argue that "the environmental significance of the Plum Island area cannot be overstated."

The government's own environmental impact statements say that a vast number of species could be impacted by development on Plum Island, including at least two endangered species, the piping plover and the roseate tern. In addition, the lawmakers argued that development of the island may affect the already endangered Atlantic ridley sea turtle and three other species.

"From personal visits, photos, and conversations with experts, we know that the island is a critical habitat and a pristine landscape that must be protected in perpetuity," the lawmakers wrote to their congressional colleagues.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.