Worries about a Galveston Bio-Lab

Exclusive: The flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey has left thousands homeless in the greater Houston area but there also is rising concern about a biological lab in Galveston that houses deadly diseases, notes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

Concern is rising for the safety of a biological lab containing deadly diseases on Galveston island, which has been hit by the massive storm devastating southeast Texas.

Galveston National Laboratory. (Photo credit Galveston National Library)

The Galveston National Laboratory on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch contains samples of hundreds of viruses, insects and microbes, which could spread extreme danger if they were to escape. There are several Bio-safety Level 4 labs at Galveston. BSL-4 is the highest level precaution taken for work with agents that can be transmitted through the air and cause fatal diseases in humans for which there are no known cures.

According to its website, the high security national bio-containment lab’s mission is to develop “therapies, vaccines, and diagnostic tests for naturally occurring emerging diseases such as SARS, West Nile encephalitis and avian influenza – as well as for microbes that might be employed by terrorists.”

There has been almost no news from Galveston as journalists have reported being blocked from reaching the island because of severe flooding. There has been no reporting at all on the condition of the lab. A call to the laboratory on Tuesday immediately went to voicemail.

The lab’s website says “plans are in place to shut down and secure all laboratory operations if a hurricane landfall is predicted near Galveston.” It says that “this shut-down and decontamination can be done quickly, with all work in the facility ceasing, the lab locked down, and all infectious agents and biological and chemical material placed into safe and secure storage.”

A 2008 article in The New York Times about the laboratory said, “Each time a hurricane approaches the island, scientists will have to stop their experiments and exterminate many of the viruses and bacteria they are studying.”

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