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Editorial: Don't leave Plum Island a toxic mess

A security patrol jeep is parked in front

A security patrol jeep is parked in front of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. The federal facility is moving to Kansas in 2019. Credit: AP file photo

No matter what the future holds for Plum Island, it's important to know what environmental problems lurk there and how they will be addressed.

Those concerns have not been adequately assessed as federal officials push to end the island's role in animal disease research and sell it to private interests. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the final environmental impact assessment is short on details about some contaminants and lacks a cleanup plan for lingering pathogens. Local members of Congress want intensive studies of soil and groundwater contamination, as well as an inventory of solid waste sites, and assessments of fuel storage, sewage treatment infrastructure and any asbestos in buildings or on the grounds. That's the best way to ensure Long Islanders won't be left with some nasty surprises in their backyard.

The 843-acre island off Long Island's North Fork has housed the national Animal Disease Center since 1954, but the lab's days are numbered. The federal government plans to move the operation to a new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Kansas in 2019 and sell the island to help offset the cost of the new facility. The best future use for Plum Island would be some sort of scientific research on the 175 acres occupied by the disease center, with the rest undisturbed as a wildlife preserve. But whether the future is open space or private development, any contamination must be remediated.

The General Services Administration should heed the request of Rep. Tim Bishop of Southampton and Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to more fully assess serious concerns about health and pollution risks. After almost six decades of research on animal diseases, it's important that the island have a clean bill of health.