Huge New Biodefense Lab Is Dedicated at Fort Detrick. The Department of Homeland Security dedicated a massive biodefense laboratory in Frederick yesterday, moving toward the facility’s opening despite questions raised about the risks of deadly pathogens to be studied there.
When the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Fort Detrick is fully operational in March, about 150 scientists in the lab will be tasked with protecting the country from a bioterrorist attack through prevention or containment. Another goal is to allow investigators to fingerprint biological agents such as viruses and bacteria, quickly tracing their source and catching the offender.
But critics cite the case of Bruce E. Ivins, a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, also at Fort Detrick, as evidence that such installations might help bioterrorists get access to lethal agents. FBI investigators think Ivins, who committed suicide in July, was responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Construction began in June 2006 on the $143 million, 160,000-square-foot facility inside the fort, the Army’s sprawling medical research post in Frederick. The ship-shaped building will be divided between the lab’s major divisions: a forensic testing center, which aims to identify the culprits in biological attacks; and the Biothreat Characterization Center, which seeks to predict what such attacks will look like and guide the development of countermeasures.
Barry Kissin, a Frederick lawyer who has strongly opposed the lab’s construction, said he fears the facility would be used to create biological weapons even though the government said its mission is defensive.
“It’s not only a huge threat to local public health and safety, it is in the forefront of the instigation of a brand-new arms race in the realm of bioweapons,” he said. “Here we are, expanding by about 20 times the size of the program that we’re now being told generated the only bio-attack in our history.”