NoLa's Biolab Mystery

Anybody know what happened to New Orleans' anthrax labs? That's the excellent and scary question Defense Tech pal Russ Kick asks over at the Memory Hole.bsl4_suit.jpgIn and around the Big Easy are a number of Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) labs, meant to handle some of the nastier biological agents out there -- stuff like anthrax, plague, and genetically-engineering mousepox. Louisiana State Universitys Medical School and the State of Louisiana both ran BSL-3s within the city. Tulane kept 5,000 monkeys for biodefense studies in its "National Primate Research Center," located in nearby Covington."What's happened to the infected animals? Are they free and roaming?" Russ wants to know. "Are they dead, with their diseased bodies floating in the flood waters? And what about the cultures and vials of the diseases? Are they still secure? Are they being stolen? Were they washed away, now forming part of the toxic soup that coats the city?"And not to turn the fear dial up any higher, but, if the national average is any guide, the keepers of the Louisiana labs weren't particularly experienced. 97 percent of the "principal investigators" who got biodefense grants from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases were newbies to that kind of work.The government oversight these neophytes get is minimal, at best. Instead, the labs are expected to police themselves, through "Institutional Biosafety Committees." But the records of these committees is, to put it politely, uneven. When the Sunshine Project, a biowatchdog group, "asked for all minutes of all meetings of [Tulane's] IBC since January 1st, 2002, Tulane replied that it has no responsive documents. That is, Tulane University cannot produce a single page of minutes of any Institutional Biosafety Committee meeting for the past two and half years."THERE'S MORE: "What happened to all the cargo at the Port?" wonders Adam Rogers, Defense Tech's editor at Wired. "In October of 2001, the executive director of the Port of New Orleans, Gary LaGrange, told me that the Port of New Orleans has about a quarter of all the containerized cargo traffic on the Gulf of Mexico. It was the countrys largest importer of steel, rubber, and coffee. Steel was going down drastically, but still. But what always really interested me the most was that New Orleans was the largest London Metals Exchange port in the country thats precious metals. Platinum and gold dont rust..."

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