Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory

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9780060011413: Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory

Nestled near the Hamptons, the fashionable summer playground of America's rich and famous, and in the shadow of New York City, lies an unimposing 840-acre island unidentified on most maps. On the few on which it can be found, Plum Island is marked red or yellow, and stamped U.S. government—restricted or dangerous animal diseases. Though many people live the good life within a scant mile or two from its shores, few know the name of this pork chop–shaped island. Even fewer can say whether it is inhabited, or why it doesn't exist on the map. That's all about to change.

Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory blows the lid off the stunning true nature and checkered history of Plum Island. It shows that the seemingly bucolic island on the edge of the largest population center in the United States is a ticking biological time bomb that none of us can safely ignore.

Based on innumerable declassified government documents, scores of in-depth interviews, and access to Plum Island itself, this is an eye-opening, suspenseful account of a federal government germ laboratory gone terribly wrong. For the first time, Lab 257 takes you deep inside this secret world and presents startling revelations including virus outbreaks, biological meltdowns, infected workers who were denied assistance in diagnosis by Plum Island brass, the periodic flushing of contaminated raw sewage into area waters, and the insidious connections between Plum Island, Lyme disease, and the deadly 1999 West Nile virus outbreak.

An exploration of the complex world of microbiology, viruses, and bacteria, Lab 257 also shows how the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which ran Plum Island for the last half century, is far more than wholesome grade-A eggs and the food pyramid. The book probes what's in store for Plum Island's new owner, the Department of Homeland Security, in this age of bioterrorism. And for those interested in questions of national security and safety, it is a call to action for those concerned with protecting present and future generations from preventable biological catastrophes.

Lab 257 will change forever our current understanding of Plum Island -- a place that is, in the words of one insider, "a biological Three Mile Island."

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Review:

That the United States government engaged in dangerous biological research during World War II will come as no surprise to Americans jaded by revelations of secret medical experiments and radiation exposures. But that the accident-plagued facility where it happened--and continues to happen--is just off the coast of Long Island may alarm many readers of Michael Christopher Carroll's Lab 257. Carroll, an attorney by trade, gamely takes on complex microbiology and shady government record-keeping in telling the story of Plum Island, home of the Animal Disease Center--no place for a casual picnic. The lab, initially set up by the Army to research ways of destroying Soviet farm animals (and to keep them from destroying ours), has often dealt with bacteria and viruses that can be passed from animals to humans. Carroll draws compelling causal links between Plum Island and the introduction of Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and duck enteritis, all non-native germs that wreaked sudden havoc in North America, and all germs that Plum Island scientists were allegedly working with. With hurricanes and terrorists on his mind, Carroll asks readers to imagine a scenario in which the Plum Island lab might release pathogens into the most densely populated area in the country. He ends the book with two chilling questions. First, does the United States need a research facility that investigates animal pathogens with potential for human transmission? Second, considering that Plum Island never had a particularly good safety record, is it the right place for such a facility? Lab 257, while occasionally veering into unsupported speculation, introduces key questions to the debate on biological security in the 21st century. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

Michael Christopher Carroll spent seven years researching and writing Lab 257. A native of Long Island and an avid outdoorsman, Carroll is now general counsel of a New York-based finance company. He lives on Long Island and in New York City.

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