- 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
- 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
- A few days into the strike, an "incident" occurred.
One of the most important commodities regarding biosafety, water, was
- 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, sabatage, 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.
- More details of Plum Island and some of its mysterious
research projects coming in Part 2.
- Patricia Doyle