If you live in New York , you may or may not have heard of “Plum Island”. Plum Island is a 3 mile wide stretch of land located less than four miles off the coast of New York. Plum Island might seem very insignificant to anyone that lives in New York. One might ask “what’s so special about plum Island?”.
Plum Island is only three miles wide (N-S) and one mile thick (E-W). It seems very insignificant , and in fact, you probably never hear about it. What makes plum Island worth writing about?
Well, following world war II , plum Island was seized by the United States government. A large structure was constructed on the far west side of plum Island. Now , the oddest part was that nobody but high level security personnel were allowed to visit Plum Island. High level security grants were needed , and ferry boat was the only method of transportation allowed to and from the Island.
Secrecy is already a bad thing , but plum Island became more of a “high security” supermax prison-style island. What the public would not learn until very recently was that Plum Island was now the home of the infamous biological testing labs of the United States. Former scientists of the German Third Reich were drafted from biological centers in Malta ( Mediterranean).
Progress done by these German scientists included the study of diseases like foot-and-mouth disease was continued on Plum Island. These pathogen-related researches were aimed at using the foot and mouth disease to decimate soviet livestock. And , as recently declassified papers have shown, the German scientists were taken as “POWs” (prisoners of war) to continue their work on Plum Island. What would later be revealed was very nightmarish. Animals were purposely infected by a variety of diseases and observed. Although this is generally what is done with most diseases , the experiments at Plum Island were not intended to see the averse affects of foot and mouth disease. Rather, the experiments were done with the sole purpose of understanding how to manage the virus with the intent of pursuing specific strategic targets.
Foot and mouth disease is almost on par with ebola and anthrax. Foot and mouth disease or FMDV is a chronic viral infection caused by the Enterovirus. In humans , the virus causes a swelling of the tongue , fever , dry skin and vomiting. The disease does not aversely affect humans and is rarely fatal. If infected though , there is no cure for the virus. There are ways to treat the symptoms , but no known vaccine or cure exists for foot and mouth disease. International medical agencies say “preventative maintenance is the only way to reduce exposure to foot and mouth disease”. After infected , humans will experience tongue swelling , mouth blisters, hand blisters and severe pain on all skin. Dry skin will crack , puss up and begin to bleed. People don’t die often because moisturizing creams , the human immune system and time will usually defeat the virus(although death can and will occur randomly- putting this virus into a very dangerous category with the bacterial anthrax and viral ebola).
Unlike in humans , the disease is significantly more dangerous in livestock. The same virus causes a phenomenon known as “hoof and mouth disease”,with almost 100% fatality rates in any infected animal. Any animal infected with the virus begins to blister at the mouth , the skin and genitalia. Soon , the skin begins to break , giving way to puss-filled blisters. The infected’s stomach then begins to expand , eventually bursting internally. The animal could die of other infections due to the blistering , dehydration , or the raptured stomach. In most cases, hair will fall off and the animal will be unable to swallow. Worse yet, the disease is extremely easy to transmit. The virus travels through the air , the water , or can survive outside the body for over 8 hours.
Often , this virus’s hardiness will make it impossible to contain if it does manage to escape the infected’s body. These outbreaks have happened in the past , and the results were unthinkable. If such an event were to occur today , it could be the end of all farm animals. This would lead to severe famines worldwide , although the virus is not known to be backwards compatible with humans and animals. This means that if a human catches the virus initially, the virus mutates in such a way that it will only affect humans. If the virus begins in a farm animal , it will begin and continue to only infect farm animals (although it will infect cows, pigs sheep etc for whatever reason without prejudice).
During the course of the cold war, the Enterovirus was the only thing studied on Plum Island. Secrecy was maintained indefinitely because the public would have been outraged by the proximity of the deadly virus and a populated New York. Hundreds of livestock would be brought in for experiments , none ever came out. The idea was to manipulate the virus by placing it in ticks , then dropping them over the Soviet Union (the secrecy never got out to the Soviet Union). Although this never actually took place in the Soviet Union , this “dark project” is still being denied by the government (probably to preserve a good image on an international scale). The rare few people that did see Plum Island via invitation have given detailed accounts of everything that was occurring on Plum Island.
The one thing that people began asking when word came out about these clandestine operations was “could you actually contain the pathogens you are working with?”. Nobody has ever received a response to this question , which raised concern. In 1978 , an outbreak of the Enterovirus did occur. All infected animals were then slaughtered and burned , like ebola victims in Africa, with the intent of preventing global pandemics.
People sometimes ask “if it has happened before, can it happen again?”. The answer to that is obviously yes. In 2003, a hurricane off the coast of Plum Island caused a power outage that threatened to release a deadly vile of frozen polio and anthrax bacteria.
Earlier than that , a study of anthrax at plum Island led to the escape of one specimen from a lab. The anthrax-infected animal was killed and destroyed , but it still managed to get away which is concerning. Earlier, there are reports of outbreaks of west-Nile virus , dutch duck plague and Lyme disease.
In 2004, another outbreak of foot and mouth virus led to another purging off all specimens on Plum Island. Again , the bodies were burned and everything that came into contact with the virus was cleaned thoroughly. Scientists have discovered that the virus can be left on clothing or other utensils and survive multiple hours (up to 8) outside of a living body. This is ample time for someone to unknowingly take the virus back to the mainland and cause endemics, which can easily become pandemics. Some countries around the world stand testament to that , as outbreaks have caused massive famines resulting in the death of those that rely on the animals for nourashment.
Currently , Plum Island is still very secretive , barring investigative journalists from their facilities. The clandestine nature of what occurs at plum Island has led to conspiracy theories. The Island is patrolled by armed security guards. The actual laboratory (building 257) is surrounded by walls comparable to those found at Alcatraz.
This is understandable due to the nature of what is occurring here , pathogens have a way of spreading extremely quickly. Pathogens are also very difficult to contain.
Perhaps the sketchiest part of Plum Island was the history of the establishment for belligerent purposes.
Plum Island’s final major blunder happened in Montauk , New York in 2008. A hybridized , beaked mammal washed up on shore west of Plum Island. The specimen was named the “Montauk Monster” , and Plum Island officials said it was only a badly decomposed raccoon. But this does not look like a raccoon… does it?
The Montauk Monster has led conspiracy theorists to assume that crossbreeding of animals and genetic modification experiments are also taking place behind the walls of the Plum Island animal research/ disease center. But apparently we have to wait for more documents to be declassified to see what’s really going on. Currently , the United States government is considering selling Plum Island to a private party , but the nature of the research conducted here is not allowed to take place on the Continental North America by law.