Somerset lab a boon for two states

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You can understand the concerns of some people in Pulaski County at the possibility of a federal research laboratory constructed 10 miles outside Somerset.

The laboratory would research and develop ways to combat biological diseases and pathogens that could be spread by terrorists. In other words, the stuff of a scary Michael Crichton novel.

But the laboratory also represents a unique and impressive cooperative project between the political leaders of Kentucky and Tennessee, and the flagship universities of both states.

It involves an investment of $450 million in federal money to construct and after it is opened in 2012, an annual payroll of $30 million to pay the high salaries of scientists who will live near and work at the 52-acre facility.

And it will feature the highest level of security possible and will replace an aging laboratory at Plum Island, N.Y.

Beyond the obvious economic benefits the laboratory promises for the southern Kentucky area, the facility will put the University of Kentucky and University of Tennessee in the forefront of research in a field of deadly diseases and pathogens that can only grow more important in the decades ahead.

As for concerns that those diseases and pathogens could escape from the laboratory, it will be surrounded by a 100-acre buffer zone, air filters will prevent organisms from escaping, and anything leaving the compound will be sanitized first.

It is important to note that no deadly breach of security has occurred at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which the new laboratory will replace.

The Somerset location is supported strongly by Gov. Ernie Fletcher and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. With active support by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, as well as Kentucky U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, chairman of the House homeland security appropriations subcommittee, the combination of Big Blue and Big Orange should to be a formidable power when it comes to picking Somerset for the new laboratory.

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