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Island of Secrets

By       Message Karl Grossman     Permalink
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Michael Carroll, author of the best-selling book, Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory, was back on the East Coast, vacationing with his family, and amazed over recent developments concerning Plum Island.

Carroll, an attorney from Long Island who worked seven years on Lab 257  which became a best-seller after its 2004 publication, has since moved to California where he and his wife, a California native, established a law practice.

Back on Long Island, where he is a native, Carroll finds as astonishing Representative Tim Bishop's fight against the plan of the federal government to shut down its Plum Island Animal Disease Center and shift its operations to a new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility it would build in Manhattan, Kansas. Bishop, of Southampton, is mainly concerned about the loss of 200 federal jobs at the center, which is in his eastern Long Island Congressional district.

"It is utter foolishness to try to save 200 jobs at the price of protecting the entire region from this island and the threat it represents," said Carroll in a recent interview. An outbreak of disease agents worked with on Plum Island--notably those affecting both animals and people--in the heavily populated area off which the island sits could be "devastating." Plum Island is just off and midway between the New York-Boston megalopolis and its millions of people, Carroll pointed out. The 843-acre island is a mile-and-a-half off Orient Point in Southold Town on the North Fork of Long Island. Connecticut is less than 10 miles to the north.

A spokesperson for Bishop, Oliver Longwell, responded that Bishop's "position on the island is indistinguishable from every other elected official who represents Southold Town at all levels of government."  

As to the call by a grouping of Long Island environmentalists for preservation of the island as opposed to the federal government's consideration of having housing developed on it,   Carroll said that making the island a preserve is all that could be done with Plum Island--but, he emphasized, it will need to be a preserve closed to people. "You can't let anybody on it," he said.   

"The island is an environmental disaster," said Carroll. "Every effort to decontaminate Lab 257, the 1950s-era germ-warfare building on it, has  failed," said Carroll. "They can't get that building clean." (Subsequently, a new laboratory building was constructed after the U.S. Department of Agriculture Department took control of the island from the U.S. Army.)

"There is contamination all over the island," said Carroll. He noted that up until recent years, nothing was ever removed from the island--everything was disposed on it, much of it buried. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have brought charges through the years in connection with the Plum Island waste, cases cited in his book, he went on. "If this was a private business, it immediately would have been shut down," said Carroll. But only "nominal" fines were meted out.

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As to a shift of Plum Island operations to Kansas, that's "going out of the frying pan into the fire," said Carroll. "Is there is no better place to study foreign animal diseases than in the middle of America's farm belt?"

"What research that needs to be conducted should be done nowhere near a human population center or a food production center," said Carroll.

As for Plum Island, "There's no way that island can be made fit for human habitation," declared Carroll." The island needs to be "forsa ken. It's very sad."

The federal government, however, believes Plum Island can be habitable as evidenced by it contemplating housing on it with the center's closing. And real-estate mogul Donald Trump has jumped into the situation by saying he would like to buy the island and, he said last month, develop a "really beautiful, world-class golf course" on it.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has written to the General Services Administration, which would manage the planned sale, and the Department of Homeland Security, which after the 9/11 attack took over the island from the Department of Agriculture, calling for a "comprehensive investigation" of Plum Island by the state DEC, and a clean-up plan. This would include "the need to properly close Building 257." Discussing his letter at a recent appearance at Orient Beach State Park, Cuomo called Plum Island "the island of secrets."

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The Cuomo family is very familiar with Plum Island. Andrew's father, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, with whom Carroll worked as a lawyer in New York City, is quoted on the jacket of Lab 257 as calling the book a "carefully researched, chilling expose of a potential catastrophe."

Carroll's Lab 257 also documents a Nazi connection to the original establishment of a U.S. laboratory on Plum Island. According to the book, Erich Traub, a scientist who worked for the Third Reich doing biological warfare, was the force behind its founding.

During World War II, "as lab chief of Insel Riems--a secret Nazi biological warfare laboratory on a crescent-shaped island in the Baltic Sea--Traub worked for Adolph Hitler's second-in-charge, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, on live germ trials," states Lab 257.

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www.karlgrossman.com
Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and host of the nationally syndicated TV program Enviro Close-Up.

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