Local News

Residents Voice Concerns Over Bio-Defense Lab

Posted September 18, 2007 7:11 p.m. EDT
Updated January 26, 2008 6:07 p.m. EST

— Hundreds of people came out Tuesday night to talk about a proposed bio-defense lab in Granville County. North Carolina is among five state finalists for the new facility.

The lab would be part of the Department of Homeland Security and could be built at the Umstead Research Farm near Butner.

A public hearing at South Granville High School reveled heated debate among folks living nearby.

"In an age of terrorism, I have a terrific concern," said a resident.

"What if there was an accident or mishap or mistake?" said another resident.

Some state and national leaders want the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) to be built in Butner. A group of some 30 organizations banded together to support the North Carolina bid.

Supporters said the $450 million lab would bring about 1,500 short-term construction jobs to the area and would eventually employ up to 500 people.

"It's where the explosion of job creation has been over the last decade, and it really furthers the research and development that is currently going on in our state," said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

"With the Research Triangle Park, the bio-technology industry that was here made it very attractive," said James Johnson, director of national laboratories for the Department of Homeland Security.

The opposition stems from the fact that scientists would study diseases such as foot-and-mouth. Some residents said they worry about the potential risk associated with deadly organisms being in the community.

"It's going to replace the one [bio-defense lab] that's in New York currently. That one is on an island and there is a reason for that," said Butner resident Doug Teasley.

Johnson said Tuesday night that Ebola and anthrax would not be among the diseases studied at the proposed Butner lab.

Residents asked whether the facility would make Butner a terrorism target. Johnson said armed guards would make sure the lab stayed safe.

Other sites selected as finalists for the 520,000-square-foot 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.

The next step in the selection process is to look at the environmental impact of the proposed sites.

The Department of Homeland Security will use that information to help determine site suitability. A final selection is expected about a year from now. If Butner is chosen, a lab could be up and running by 2013.