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Plum Island
New policies in place

BY BILL BLEYER
STAFF WRITER

August 24, 2004

Following the inadvertent spread of foot-and-mouth disease within the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in June and July, the Department of Homeland Security agreed yesterday to develop a new policy for informing the public of such incidents at the lab.

The commitment came at a meeting on the island off Orient Point between lab officials, Southold Supervisor Joshua Horton and representatives of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.

Clinton and Bishop, Levy and the director of the North Fork Environmental Council had written to lab director Beth Lautner at the beginning of this month urging her to notify the public about the two cross-contamination incidents after they were briefed about the problem. But Homeland Security opted not to go beyond informing Clinton, Bishop, Horton and representatives of East End environmental groups.

So the incidents were not made public until Newsday learned about them and ran a story a week ago.

After the meeting yesterday, Clinton, Bishop, Levy and Horton issued a joint statement. "A public notification process for such incidents is critical to the ongoing communication between the Plum Island research facility and the local community," they said. "It is also an important part of the department's stated commitment to full and honest communication with the public."

Homeland Security spokesman Donald Tighe said "we appreciate them coming to the island and we appreciate their input. We welcome additional input on this as well."

Tighe added that "our commitment since Day One of the handover [from the Department of Agriculture more than a year ago] has been to full public awareness. That will evolve, and we hope always improve."

Tighe said there wasn't wider notification on the two incidents because they didn't meet the existing notification criteria.

The department tightened biosafety procedures after foot-and-mouth viruses accidentally spread to cattle and swine within the biocontainment area of the laboratory.

Foot-and-mouth virus infects cloven-footed animals and can be spread by contact.

Copyright 2004, Newsday, Inc.