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Homeland Security

About Plum Island Animal Disease Center

The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Safeguarding Livestock

At PIADC, the Department of Homeland Security and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) work together in a shared crucial mission.

The three organizations at PIADC are the Department, USDA Agriculture Research Services, and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.

The Department has oversight for administration and facility management and maintains operations of the facility in addition to having its own science program.

The USDA Agricultural Research Services unit performs basic and applied research to formulate better countermeasures against foreign animal diseases, including strategies for prevention, control and recovery.  The Agricultural Research Services focuses on developing faster-acting vaccines and antivirals to be used during outbreaks to limit or stop transmission.  Antivirals prevent infection while vaccine immunity develops.  The principal diseases studied are Foot-and-Mouth disease, classical swine fever and vesicular stomatitis virus.

The Departments' Targeted Advanced Development unit partners with USDA Agricultural Research Services, academia and industry scientists to deliver lead vaccine and antiviral candidates to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services for eventual licensure and inclusion in the USDA National Veterinary Vaccine Stockpile.  Currently, the unit is working on validating the safety and efficacy of a vaccine platform for the delivery of Foot-and-Mouth disease virus protective antigens and antivirals to cattle and pigs.

The vaccine platform being developed is a delivery system that allows the use of a "marked" vaccine. A marked vaccine has a marker of sorts to allow diagnosticians to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals.  Previously, the distinction could not be made, which is one reason why livestock are not preventatively vaccinated against Foot-in-Mouth disease in the United States (U.S.).  To be free of agricultural trade restrictions, a country must be considered Foot-and-Mouth disease free.  Currently, under trade regulations, vaccinating for Foot-and-Mouth disease causes a country to not be considered Foot-and-Mouth disease free.  For more information on Foot-and-Mouth status and global trade, visit the World Organization for Animal Health Office of Epizootics.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services unit operates the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, an internationally recognized facility performing diagnostic testing of samples collected from U.S. livestock.  Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services also tests animals and animal products being imported into the U.S.  Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services maintains the North American Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Bank at PIADC.

Additionally, at PIADC, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services hosts the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic School.  The school runs six times per year and educates approximately 30 students per session.  Students are typically federal and state veterinarians and laboratory diagnostic staff, military veterinarians, veterinary school faculty and some industry veterinarians.  These hands-on courses allow students to observe first hand signs of foreign animal diseases.  Students are also instructed on sample collection and submission in the event of a suspected foreign animal disease outbreak.  Once they finish their courses, they, in effect, become surveyors for foreign animal diseases across the United States.  By 2006, PIADC had run its 116th Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic School and had educated more than 3,000 participants.

PIADC Facility Information

Plum Island Animal Disease Center operates Biosafety Level 3 Agriculture (BSL-3Ag), BSL-2 laboratory facilities.  PIADC has state-of-the-art biosafety practices and procedures to prevent a disease organism from escaping into the environment, including stringent and rigorously observed safety measures within the laboratories themselves.  These safety measures include:

  • Restricted access to authorized employees and approved visitors.  Trained security professionals and surveillance systems guard the island, laboratory and storage areas 24/7.  All employees have pass security clearances.
  • The laboratory, animal care facility and laboratory sewage decontamination plant operate to enhanced BSL-3 standards.  A careful program of preventive maintenance is performed on the lab's biosafety systems, and redundant or back-up systems provide an extra level of protection to ensure against escape of livestock disease causing agents.
  • A skilled staff monitors laboratory air handling systems in real-time to maintain biocontainments.  The laboratory spaces on Plum Island are biologically isolated using a system that draws fresh air in and filters the air before being exhausted from the facility.  The inside of the laboratory is kept at a lower air pressure than the ambient air outside (negative air pressure).  This ensures air inside the building does not go out from the facility without first being filtered completely and thoroughly. 
  • Employees who work in the containment laboratory spaces take special precautions to ensure they do not inadvertently carry with them animal viruses outside the laboratory.  They must change clothes prior to entering the lab and change and shower many times throughout the work day when going between animal rooms.  They must also remove their laboratory work clothes and shower before leaving the laboratory facilities.  All employees and visitors of the laboratory facilities (not the administrative building) must agree to a Personal Recognizant Quarantine to preclude them for a defined time period from going to livestock holding areas on the mainland that contain cloven-hoofed animals.
  • Anything going into the laboratory must either stay there or go through an extensive biological decontamination process before being brought out.  Water and sewage wastes from the laboratory are thoroughly decontaminated before further waste water treatment, and trash is incinerated.

What PIADC Does Not Do:

  • Does not perform research on human diseases.
  • Does not perform research on avian influenza.  A strain of avian influenza is demonstrated during the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic School, but it is not the H5N1 strain that has been in the news.
  • Does not and has not performed research on Lyme disease.  Discover more information on the history of Lyme disease. 
  • Does not perform research on West Nile virus; however, the facility was asked to assist when an outbreak of West Nile virus affected horses on Long Island.  PIADC researchers assisted in the collection of samples, as well as an initial development and testing of a West Nile virus vaccine for horses.  Discover more about the history of West Nile through USDA and more about West Nile through the Centers for Disease Control. 
  • PIADC researchers do not perform classified research.  All research is submitted for publication and, after publication, is available through Medline, PubMed, Science Direct or other research publication databases.

National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility

The Department has announced plans for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to eventually replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.  Though a critical asset to the nation's agricultural security, Plum Island is more than 50 years old and becoming increasingly more costly to maintain.  Additionally, the laboratory and test space in the current facility is insufficient to support the increasing levels of research and development needed to meet the growing concerns about accidental or intentional introduction of foreign animal diseases into this country.

Though this facility is the eventual replacement to PIADC, PIADC will continue its mission until the NBAF is fully operational. Please visit the NBAF for more information.

By mail:
Plum Island Animal Disease Center
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
P.O. Box 848
Greenport, N.Y. 11944

By e-mail:

Last Published Date: October 17, 2014
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