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Secret Sanctions Revealed Against University Hosting $1.25 Billion Bio Lab

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USA Today:

Kansas State University — where a controversial $1.25 billion biosecurity lab facility is under construction — secretly faced federal sanctions last year after repeatedly violating safety regulations during its research with bioterror pathogens, records obtained by USA TODAY show.

Kansas State’s “history of non-compliance” during four consecutive inspections over two years shows a “systemic problem” and has “raised serious concerns” about the university’s ability to put safeguards in place to ensure safety and containment of dangerous pathogens, according to a March 2014 letter to the university from federal lab regulators.

University officials said Tuesday they were surprised by the letter’s harsh tone and language because nearly all of the violations involved administrative paperwork issues that posed no safety or security threat. Yet in the letter, regulators threatened to suspend or revoke the university’s permits to do research with bioterror pathogens if it didn’t agree to enter a federal performance improvement program.

The regulatory action against Kansas State is of particular importance because the university’s campus in Manhattan is the site of the federal government’s new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), which held a groundbreaking ceremony in May. Construction of the 570,000-square-foot facility has faced years of delays and controversy because of concerns about whether research on some of the world’s most dangerous agricultural diseases can be done safely in farm country and near herds of livestock.

Although the NBAF will be an independently run Department of Homeland Security facility when it opens around 2022, the university has publicized on its website that Kansas State’s labs already are being used to “jump-start” research that “will eventually transition” to the new federal facility. Transition research underway includes studies of Rift Valley fever, a mosquito-borne disease that can cause abortions in livestock and fatal infections in people; Japanese encephalitis, another mosquito-borne disease that can cause reproductive problems in pigs and serious and sometimes fatal brain infections in people; and Classical swine fever, a potentially deadly pig disease.

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