The Truth About Plum Island by Patricia Doyle
The Truth About Plum Island
By Patricia Doyle, PhD
I have been investigating Plum Island since September 1999, after hearing reports of equine West Nile Virus (WNV) cases in Suffolk County, Long Island, and, later human cases in Queens, New York. At the same time, August 1999, a Boy Scout camp, also in Suffolk County, Long Island, was closed due to cases of Malaria. In June of 1999, there were reports of a tick borne encephalitis in New England, and a flu-like illness on Block Island.
WHAT IS PLUM ISLAND?
Plum Island, formerly Ft. Terry, is an animal facility comprising various labs. FADDL, or the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab is a diagnostic facility that is a full service diagnostic laboratory receiving samples from around the world. PIADC, the Plum Island Animal Disease Center comprises various laboratory facilities and studies exotic diseases of animals. It was designated a biolevel 5 facility, now mandated by Congress which enabled Plum Island to study and research diseases and vaccines for diseases that would not be allowed in the Continental US. The factor allowing for this biolevel 5 designation is its island status.
Plum Island uses biolevel 3 safety measures for biocontainment. Some of the measures include negative pressurization labs and employees taking many showers.
Plum Island has been seeking an upgrade to biolevel 4.
A biolevel 4 facility would entail self-contained respirator suits and pathogens for which there are no known cures or vaccines. This also would enable them to work with zoonotic diseases. A zoontoic disease is a disease that jumps species barrier. In other words, a disease of animals that would also infect humans such as Nipah virus, a new paramyoxivirus that killed 100 people in Malaysia in 1999 and caused the slaughter of thousands of pigs.
Theoretically, Plum Island would be able to work with Ebola and other virulent viruses, bacteria and mycoplasma.
The community around Plum Island is very skeptical of this upgrade as Plum Island had been featured in many news reports over the years for safety violations. In 1994, dead lab birds had been found outside, in open air, in the corridor of the Exotic Disease lab. Plum Island officially denied research with birds, but I have confirmation from a Plum Island worker, that they did, indeed, research birds as vectors of disease.
WHERE IS PLUM ISLAND?
Plum Island is a pork chop shaped island, about one mile and a half off the north fork shore at Orient Point, Long Island. It is approximately 10 miles across Long Island Sound from US submarine base at Groton, Connecticut. Plum Island is accessible by Government Ferryboat only. There are two Ferryboat docks, one at Orient Point on Long Island, and the other at Old Saybrook, Connecticut near Lyme Connecticut. The index case for Lyme Disease was isolated in a youth who lived a few miles from the Plum Island ferryboat dock.
Its island status does create some problems as the logistics of delivering animals, especially large animals, via ferryboat can be cumbersome. As far as security, Plum Island has security guards, but only two guards are armed.
WHAT IS NEW AT PLUM ISLAND?
On August 13, 2002, seventy six (76) union workers, members of the International Union of Operating Engineers went out on strike. These workers filled key roles, such as operating the waste-water treatment plant, and, decontamination plant and also served as boat operators and safety technicians. The workers are employed by a government subcontractor, LB&B Associates, based in Columbia, Maryland. There is no precedent for this strike as it is a first-time ever strike against a secure government lab.
A few days into the strike, an “incident” occurred. One of the most important commodities regarding biosafety, water, was in jeopardy.
The island gets its water from a series of wells that feed a central water tower. According to witnesses on the island, part of the pressure being generated was lost. Water is central to many of the activities performed on the island, especially the cleaning. Many activities, such as necropsies had to be stopped during the event.
As there was a question of either incompetence of replacement workers, or, sabotage, the FBI began an investigation. The waste-water treatment plant is not being run by union workers. Other jobs are being done by supervisory personnel. The replacement workers are living on the island, sleeping in cots and working 12 hour shifts. The workers can not make phone calls. LB&B refused to answer questions about the replacement workers’ security clearances and training.
Representative Rob Simmons of Connecticut was unable to get further details of security clearances, or, training of the replacement workers. After Rep. Simmons learned that the FBI was on Plum Island investigating the incident of drop in water pressure, he requested to visit the island to ascertain conditions. The USDA refused to give Rep. Simmons permission to visit the island.
It is now September 3, 2002, and we still have no information on the cause of drop of water pressure, and no solution of the strike.
I have been able to get some information on former Plum Island projects, one of which includes Tick Project 101. I have also verified that Plum Island, did, indeed work with birds. Birds were studied in regard to vectors of disease outbreaks. We saw that birds have been an efficient vector in the spread cycle of West Nile Virus.
by Patricia Doyle