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Officials Try to Reassure Residents about Bio-Defense Lab

Posted February 21, 2008
Updated February 22, 2008

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— Representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security met Thursday night with residents concerned about a bio-defense lab that might be built in Butner.

The department has six places – including Butner – on its short list of sites for a National Bio- and Agro-Defense facility where scientists would study animal diseases and diseases spread from animals to humans.

Supporters say the lab would bring about 1,500 short-term construction jobs, eventually employ up to 500 people and generate $6 billion in the local economy over the next two decades.

Opponents say they are concerned about accidents and human error in a laboratory where scientists will be handling avian flu and mad-cow viruses.

"Catastrophic accidents that could kill people do, in fact, happen," Rev. Bernard Holliday said at the Thursday meeting. "I would like the plan to be terminated, as far as the location here."

"It is impossible to expect that there will not be either a human error that leads to a disease release or a failure of the building's containment system," Kathryn Spann said.

The governing bodies of Raleigh, Creedmoor and Granville County have voted their official opposition to the lab.

Raleigh officials said they feared viruses loosed from the facility could contaminate the headwaters of Falls Lake, the city's primary reservoir.

"We're particularly concerned about Raleigh's drinking water supply, just because of this discharge that would be coming out," said Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for N.C.

Government officials sought to reassure residents that the state-of-the-art facility will be safe. They stressed the appeal for researchers of Butner's proximity to Research Triangle Park and universities with strong agriculture and veterinary programs.

"A lot of biotech, biomanufacturing companies here, the University of North Carolina, Duke, and N.C. State('s) vet school – all those factors made this location an attractive site," Jaime Johnson, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said.

Other finalists for the facility are:

  • Flora Industrial Park, Madison County, Miss.
  • Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan.
  • Texas Research Park, San Antonio, Texas
  • University of Georgia/South Milledge Avenue, Athens, Ga.
  • Plum Island, Massachusetts

Homeland Security is expected to choose a site in the fall. If Butner is selected, the lab could be operating by 2013.

Another community meeting is scheduled for June. Homeland Security officials will go over an environmental impact statement then.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • agdeppa3 Feb 22, 2008

    Blackdog, who are "the people"? I live in Creedmoor and am not against this. Neither is any one of my family members, some who live in Butner. I have talked to most of my friends and fellow church members and have found very few who are against it and those who are, are the ones quoting accidents that have happened in other countries. None can give time, date or place of any accidents occurring in America that GNAT is trying to scare people into believing will happen here if the BioLab is allowed to be built here. I would rather look at all the FACTS rather than listen to a bunch of fear mongers.

  • PaulRevere Feb 22, 2008

    The environmentalists liars strike again. They want us all to live in the Stone Age.

  • MoroccoMole Feb 22, 2008

    Oh my - not only do we have some serious Nothing New Can Be Good And You Ain't Convincin' Me Otherwise folks, we also seem to have some folks who hear the theme from Deliverance starting up as soon as they cross What Used To Be Falls Lake on I-85.

    Seriously, we haven't had an out-of-towner eaten up this way in years. It's really a pretty nice place, close enough to the big cities that if you WANT something at 2AM, an hour (or less) later you can have it, but you can still see the start at night.

    I'd have to laugh if I didn't so strongly support the lab...

  • iamforjustice Feb 22, 2008

    TechRescue...FYI, Granville County has a lot of wealthy people. Have you seen the homes in Oxford? They are beautiful. I gon there on some Saturdays with my family and the majesty of them are great. I don't care for the antebellum master homes. Oxford is a very diverse community in Granville County and I would love to raise my family there.

  • TechRescue Feb 22, 2008

    snady498 - Jobs are always great... However, the higher-paying jobs will, by all accounts that I have read, draw from the University and research community - the providers most often mentioned are NCSU Vet school, the trained staff currently working in RTP, and other medical / research facilities located south of the proposed lab.

    There will undoubtedly be some janitorial and maintenance positions that they would be happy to let the locals fill, so it was incorrect of me to make a statement that there would be no jobs locally. And yes, it's true that some people would be tempted to move if they got jobs there. However, being experts in pathogen transmission, they will most likely choose domiciles at least 20 miles SouthWest of the lab - and that isn't Granville County.

  • The Fox Feb 22, 2008

    Some folks just can't stand prosperity.

  • snady498 Feb 22, 2008

    to TechRescue: then why not put it proximal to the people that will work there, a factor often lamented when we talk about road congestion, pollution, and gas prices?
    BECAUSE maybe the people working there live closer to butner than RTP!
    did it ever occur to any of the uninformed opposition here that there are qualified people in the granville/vance county area to fill these researcher positions? these people who have to drive over an hour to work in a research setting spending ungodly amounts of money on gas. those same people work with virsus and cancer causing agents hoping to one day find a cure for it all. plus wouldn't it be nice to see new jobs come into the area besides waiters and retail clerks?
    think about it people, DHS is not going to let just anybody off of the street work in this facility. it will be highly guarded and regulated.
    so people get over yourselves and your fears fuled by ignorance. and for once let something good come into the area.

  • Panzer_IV Feb 22, 2008

    hehe some of the comments are silly. I think it goes both ways, too much trust in some cases is a bad thing. Someone mentioned that we want our government to protect us...who protects us from them? Anyway I am off to make a foil hat....

  • CaptainSpleen Feb 22, 2008

    Mad cow is caused by a prion, not a virus.

  • TechRescue Feb 22, 2008

    Jimbo is right - NIMBY often gets replaced with "BANANAS" (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody, Stupid").

    However... DHS has already admitted that in the rare case there are any problems, they would be either Haz-Mat or Terrorism. With that being the case (and assuming that they're not lying when they say it's perfectly safe), a much more logical location would be on land (also state-owned) near RTP. Shorter commute for the University Systems, a large multi-agency Law Enforcement resource pool, and the Regional Hazardous Materials Team is right down the road in Raleigh. That seems much more responsible than a remote rural area where an attack could be planned and carried out with much less chance of detection.

    Is it safe or not? If it is, then why not put it proximal to the people that will work there, a factor often lamented when we talk about road congestion, pollution, and gas prices?