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Missouri will not build second lab to test for anthrax

November 05, 2001
By: Robert Sandler
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Plans for Missouri to supplement the only lab in the state that can test for anthrax will be delayed for at least a year or two.

The state's plan to spend $25 million toward a new state health laboratory has been cut by Gov. Bob Holden due to revenue shortfalls.

In its last session, the legislature authorized funds for the lab. But budget problems have caused the governor to freeze $150 million in state spending this year.

"We will get that health lab built," governor's spokesman Jerry Nachtigal said. "It's just in our current economic climate, the governor felt that money was needed for education, law enforcement, and protecting our most vulnerable citizens."

The existing lab is the only one in the state that is capable of testing for anthrax.

As of 9:30 Monday morning, the lab was testing 184 samples for anthrax contamination, according to Eric Blank, the lab's director.

"We're keeping up with things. Every now and then we feel overloaded," Blank said.

Last Friday, the Senate Interim Committee on Improving Health Care issued a statement urging the governor to release the funds for a new lab.

"We have already appropriated $25 million for the construction of a new state health laboratory, and the letter from the committee asks the governor to release that funding so construction of the new facility can begin," said Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca.

Singleton said he sees the construction of the new lab to be more important in light of bioterrorism scares.

"(The existing lab) does not have the flexibility to change to meet the changing demands of the new and more dangerous world," Singleton said.

"(The governor) did tell me Saturday that he is trying to get some federal monies to help with the state laboratory and we certainly should continue to seek money from the federal government in reaction to a new state health lab. (But) I believe that we can go ahead and build it ourselves," Singleton said.

Nachtigal would not confirm or deny that suggestion.

"I think there's a feeling among the states that Congress is going to need to help out with some of the costs of antiterrorism and emergency preparedness in the states," he said.

As approved by the legislature, the money for the new health lab was to come entirely from Missouri's tobacco settlement. The governor has used $150 million of tobacco money to plug holes in this year's budget.