Located off the northeast coast of Long Island, Plum Island was once the home of Fort Terry and a World War II era anti-submarine base. Decommissioned after the war, the Fort was reassigned to the Army Chemical Corps for the research of common cattle and other livestock diseases that could harm the country’s food supply.
In response to the threat of biological terrorism involving pathogens like anthrax following the September 11th attacks, the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took over the facility in 2003 and quickly proposed upgrading Plum Island from a ‘Biosafety Level 3” to a “Biosafety Level 4” facility.
Located within 50 miles of some 20 million people who live on Long Island, the upgraded lab would have been responsible for handling some of the most dangerous and deadly pathogens known to humankind, many of which are highly infectious and have no known cures.
Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Department of Homeland Security was required to carry out an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before it could implement the proposed changes. This review process is designed to protect local communities and the environment from harm by requiring project sponsors to engage in a review process to discover any significant environmental and public health impacts before a decision is made.
Senator Blumenthal, who was then Connecticut Attorney General, expressed grave concerns about the project and the adequacy of DHS’ environmental review, challenging the government’s proposed plan on the basis that it failed to assess the intolerable security risks in an area so densely populated, heavily traveled, and environmentally valued.
For example, the EIS did not address the proximity of Plum Island to New York City – the nation’s most populous city and a repeated target of terrorist attacks – or the extreme difficulty of providing emergency response services to an island.
As a result, DHS was forced to re-examine its decision and chose to relocate the laboratory to a far more appropriate location in Kansas, where the project was welcomed by the governor and remained far away from any major population center.
 “National Bio And Agro-Defense Facility Final Environmental Impact Statement.” Department of Homeland Security. December 2008. Available at:
 “Record of Decision for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility Environmental Impact Statement.” Department of Homeland Security. January 16, 2009. Available at:
 “What’s Ahead for Plum Island?” The New York Times. January 22, 2009. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/nyregion/long-island/25plumli.html
 “Foreseeing an economic boom, Manhattan, Kan., opens its arms to new lab.” Kansas City Star. May 30, 2015. Available at: