Last Updated Sep 21, 2009 7:27 AM EDT
The NBAF is controversial for several reasons. First it is currently located on an isolated island in the Atlantic Ocean. This site was chosen decades ago as it was hoped that putting it off of the U.S. mainland would help protect against accidental releases of any diseases. The facility contains samples of both animal and plant pathogens that if they did get out could cause substantial damage to the nation's crops and food supply.
Secondly the new location will be in Kansas. This is considered unsafe by some because not only is it on the U.S. mainland but it is also near major cattle and agricultural states. This makes it harder to contain any leaks. The current Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is Katherine Sebelius who is a former governor of Kansas and there is concern that the site was chosen due to politics.
No matter what the objections the government took the first step of building the NBAF by letting a contract for oversight of the construction. This was awarded to McCarthy/Mortenson Joint Venture of St. Louis, MO and New York. The initial contract value is only $3.2 million but begins the process of breaking ground.
The current estimate for total cost of the NBAF is around $520 million. After the site was chosen in Kansas other groups bidding on the program including the Texas Bio- & Agro-Defense Consortium protested the award in Federal Court. Part of their argument was that the cost estimate based on the chosen location was too low. It is certainly possible using past experience as a guide that this is true. Part of the selection involved the Kansas Government and Kansas State University (KSU) putting money into local improvements.
There is no question that the U.S. must put time and research into these kind of threats. While there has been little effective use of biological weapons in recent times on a mass scale there is certainly the possibility. The NBAF will also be used to conduct more conventional research into protecting plants and animals. A site on the U.S. mainland may be controversial due to its higher chance of allowing an escape getting into the nation's food supply. One assumes thought that all the correct risk assessments have been done.