Long Island native and lawyer Michael Christopher Carroll takes us on a shocking journey inside the notorious Plum Island biological research facility, and the trip is not an enjoyable one. Carroll spent five years researching this highly detailed and powerful account of the secretive government installation that sits just off the coast of some of New York’s prime real estate, an installation that has had its share of meltdowns, mishaps and downright scary security breaches, including two known releases of deadly viruses into the air.
Owned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Plum Island lies just off the coast of the North Fork of Long Island. This otherwise uninhabited, woodsy island has a long history of controversy and secrecy, as Carroll so intricately details, and just may have put the millions of residents of the Tri-State area in utter danger of exposure to fatal animal diseases, including Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus, and even anthrax, time and time again.
Carroll tells us the history of this mysterious island, from its roots as an animal disease facility to its transformation into a bio-warfare research facility, and from its rise as a top research lab to its fall as a decrepit, run-down and dangerous place with little in the way of security, even after the events of 9/11 put the island under the watch of the Department of Homeland Security.
We meet the people who made Plum Island: the scientists, researchers, workers, animal handlers, USDA reps and the citizens of the surrounding areas who never wanted the lab facility there in the first place. We see the many breaches of security and protection that often threatened to release viruses of potentially devastating force into the surrounding environs, viruses that often resulted in many workers on the island becoming ill with diseases their own personal doctors couldn’t identify.
This book is a whistleblower’s dream, filled with evidence of cover-ups of horrendous proportions that include suggestions that West Nile Virus and other such diseases were actually introduced to U.S. soil via Plum Island, and that the mishaps on the island could have also potentially put anthrax, mad cow, and Rift Valley fever viruses into the hands of terrorists who could easily access the island during its many administrative shake-downs.
For anyone interested in bioterrorism, this book is chilling to the bone because it proves that we have just as much to do with releasing deadly toxins and viruses, because of accidents or human error, as any foreign terrorist. For anyone interested in whether or not our country is really safer after 9/11, this book will make you sick to your stomach because the author shows time and time again, we are not safe at all.
Carroll had exclusive access to Plum Island and many of its scientists and workers, and their own words and stories are the most horrifying of all. They tell of breaches in security, carelessness, greed and even subtle sabotage that put at risk millions of Americans. Plum Island was and remains a death trap, struggling to regain the glory it held for a short time as a top research facility manned by some of the world’s finest minds (including a real live Nazi brought over via the infamous Project Paperclip). But even the best minds cannot be perfect, or keep us perfectly safe, and the mistakes that were made, chronicled in this thrilling and eye-opening book in full detail, were and remain deadly.
Lab 257 is a wake-up call to people to be more aware of what goes on in their own backyards. Labs like these exist all over the country, some more visible than others. But it is also a wake-up call to our security-obsessed government that kicking Muslim musicians off of airplanes is not what we need to be safe. Shoring up our crumbling biological research labs and accounting for the hundreds of vials of deadly viruses and microbes might be a better use of our time, our taxes and our energy. Plum Island, and its history of danger to millions of citizens, is proof of that indeed.