Did Lyme Disease Escape From This Secret USDA Lab?

We’re normally skeptical of wild conspiracy theories. This one is … interesting. – Ed.

What really happened in Lab 257?

State University of New York at New Paltz, Smaranda Dumitru

| As an animal disease center, Plum Island has been the focus of many dark government conspiracies, from top secret biological weapon experimentation during the Cold War to the working ground for Nazi scientists recruited after World War II.

Perhaps scientific experimentation mixed with government classification is just a hotbed for saucy conspiracies, or maybe there is more to Plum Island than we suspect.

A more recent theory is that Lyme disease escaped from Plum Island, which may be the most plausible conspiracy theory yet.

The theory went mainstream in 2004 with Michael C. Carroll’s book, Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory.

Plum Island is located off the coast of Long Island, New York. It was used as a military base during the Spanish-American war and in 1954 was turned into a government animal disease center.

The center was established to study foot-and-mouth disease in cattle, a highly contagious disease that is rare in humans but can ravage farms and the livestock industry.

While the center was run by the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2002 during talks of selling the island it was transferred to the United States Department of Homeland Security.

The reason some believe Lyme disease escaped Plum Island is that the island is located just a few miles off the coast of Lyme, Connecticut, which is where the first outbreak of Lyme was observed in 1975.

While scientists say that all animals on the island are killed to prevent the possible spread of diseases, conspiracy theorists argue that birds regularly fly between the island and the mainland and thus are able to spread any diseases they may pick up.

“I don’t know if Lyme came from Plum Island,” said a chief strategy officer for a Hudson Valley policy-oriented think tank … Read more. 

The Troubling History of Building 257 

By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press

4/11/2008

WASHINGTON — The only U.S. facility allowed to research the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease experienced several accidents with the feared virus, the Bush administration acknowledged Friday.

A 1978 release of the virus into cattle holding pens on Plum Island, N.Y., triggered new safety procedures.

While that incident was previously known, the Homeland Security Department told a House committee there were other accidents inside the government’s laboratory.

The accidents are significant because the administration is likely to move foot-and-mouth research from the remote island to one of five sites on the U.S. mainland near livestock herds.

This has raised concerns about the risks of a catastrophic outbreak of the disease, which does not sicken humans but can devastate the livestock industry.

Skeptical Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee demanded to see internal documents from the administration that they believe highlight the risks and consequences of moving the research.

The live virus has been confined to Plum Island for more than a half-century to keep it far from livestock.

The 1978 accidental release “resulted in the FMD virus in some of the cattle in holding pens outside the laboratory facility,” Jay Cohen, a senior Homeland Security official, wrote in response to the committee.

“Detailed precautions were taken immediately to prevent the spread of the disease from Plum Island, and new precautionary procedures were introduced.”

Cohen, undersecretary for science and technology, said there also have been “in-laboratory incidents” — contamination of foot-and-mouth virus within the facility but not outside it — at Plum Island since 1954.

That was the year the Agriculture Department acquired the land and started the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

One government report combined commercial satellite images and federal farm data to show the proximity to livestock herds of locations that have been considered for the new lab. Read more. 

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