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Plum Island Animal Disease Center, Plum Island

This small island in Long Island Sound is where the federal government conducts research into exotic, deadly animal diseases such as foot and mouth disease, African swine fever, and the Nipah and Hen-dra viruses. Several of these diseases are also deadly to humans, and this facility is being upgraded to handle a greater workload and even more deadly diseases.

The Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) was founded in 1954 by the Department of Agriculture to study foot and mouth disease. Its isolated location in Long Island Sound was chosen to minimize the possibility of infecting animals or humans through airborne germs or viruses. Plum Island claims to have no incidents of infection of any animals or humans through accidental release of the pathogens studied there.

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Among the activities carried on at PIADC are research into diagnostic methods for animal diseases, vaccine development, and training of veterinary and agriculture personnel in the recognition and treatment of animal diseases. During the Cold War, research was also conducted here into detection and treatment of biological warfare involving animal diseases. And, since the September 11 attacks, new programs have been launched into detection and vaccination methods for animal diseases (such as the Hendra virus) that also infect and harm humans. Despite frequent rumors, PIADC denies any research is being conducted into anthrax on Plum Island and says no stocks of anthrax are kept there.

Plum Island’s laboratories are sealed from the outside world by air filtration and circulation systems; special clothing must be worn in the laboratories, and disinfecting showers must be taken when leaving the laboratories or moving between laboratories holding different infectious agents. All materials entering or leaving the laboratories are thoroughly fumigated or otherwise sterilized, liquid waste is heated to high temperatures before disposal, and solid waste is incinerated.

There are multiple backup power and filtration systems along with emergency medical personnel.

Even more secure laboratory facilities are currently being built at PIADC. These laboratories will require personnel to wear “space suits” with independent, self-contained air sources to totally isolate workers from pathogens. PIADC was transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Homeland Security in June 2003, and this has resulted in speculation that it will be emphasizing protection against biological terrorism in the future.

What’s There: PIADC is located on the northeastern side of Plum Island and includes numerous laboratories, a power generating station, a sewage treatment station, waste processing and disposal facilities, a firefighting station, numerous roads, and landing strips for light aircraft.

Getting a Look inside: Plum Island is off-limits to the public, with numerous electronic security systems and human guards. Any attempt to land on the island by boat will certainly involve arrest and prosecution. However, it is possible to sail by the island; its historic 1870 lighthouse, while no longer operational, is quite distinctive.

GettingThere: Plum Island is located near the Gardiner’s Bay section of Long Island Sound, approximately 1.5 miles from shore. The nearest town on Long Island is Orient Point in Suffolk County.

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