Galveston Bio-Lab Declared Safe

Exclusive: Flooding from Hurricane Harvey triggered a dangerous chemical explosion outside Houston, but a bio-lab in Galveston bristled over concerns about the potential release of its dangerous pathogens, reports Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

The Galveston National Laboratory in Texas, which contains samples of some of the most deadly and incurable diseases, has issued a statement reporting itself safe five days after Hurricane Harvey struck on Friday amid safety concerns for a lab built in one of America’s most active hurricane zones.

Schematic design of Galveston National Laboratory. (Photo credit: Galveston National Library)

The lab issued a statement late on Wednesday saying, “The GNL reported that the facility continued operations without interruption and did not incur any damage, loss of power or biocontainment during the storm. “

Until Wednesday, there had been a news blackout about the lab since the Category 4 hurricane struck the island of Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico, where the lab is located. Reporters had been unable to reach the island because of severe flooding and the local press did not report on the fate of the lab. A voice message I left at the lab on Tuesday was never returned.

The lack of news about the lab fueled legitimate worry about its condition, given longstanding concerns about placing the lab in the path of hurricanes.

On its website, the lab says it has been constructed to withstand a Category 5 storm. But when it was built in 2008, local environmentalists raised the alarm. Hurricane Ike, weaker than Harvey, hit Galveston in 2005 and had knocked out back-up generators at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where the lab is located.

“The University of Texas should consider locating its biohazards lab away from Galveston Island and out of harm’s way,” Ken Kramer, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, told The New York Times a month before the lab opened in November 2008. “As destructive as it was, Hurricane Ike was only a Category 2 storm. A more powerful storm would pose an even greater threat of a biohazards release,” Kramer said. Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 storm when it made…

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