Much of the University of Texas medical school on this island suffered flood damage during Hurricane Ike in September, except for one gleaming new building, a national biological defense laboratory that will soon house some of the most deadly diseases in the world.
How a laboratory where scientists plan to study viruses like Ebola and Marburg ended up on a barrier island where hurricanes regularly wreak havoc puzzles some environmentalists and community leaders.
“It’s crazy, in my mind,” said Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer in Houston. “I just find an amazing willingness among the people on the Texas coast to accept risks that a lot of people in the country would not accept.”
Words like “gullible” and “ignorant” come to mind.
The project enjoyed the strong support of three influential Texas Republicans: President George W. Bush, a former Texas governor; Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; and the former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, whose district includes part of Galveston County. Officials at the National Institutes of Health, however, say the decision to put the lab here was based purely on the merits. It is to open Nov. 11.
The laboratory is one of two the Bush administration pushed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The second is being built at Boston University Medical Center, where it met stiff community resistance.
Not so in Texas, where there was hardly a whimper of protest. For starters, the University of Texas Medical Branch is one of the largest employers on the island of 57,000 people.
The laboratory will do research into diseases like Ebola, anthrax, tularemia, West Nile virus, drug-resistant tuberculosis, bubonic plague, avian influenza and typhus.
On one hand, there will be no shortage of people who will say Texas really deserves a facility like this.
On the other, some will say even Texas doesn’t deserve this. 🙂