Book Club: Lab 257

What did you think of the latest ThriveAP book club read Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory? Admittedly, I’m a little behind in posting a review of the book. But, not because it was difficult to get through. I was quite interested by and enjoyed the read. If you’re any sort of a conspiracy theorist, a science junky, or interested in the intersection of science, politics and medicine, I’m sure you did too.

Lab 257, by Michael Carroll, tells the story of a little known island lying inconspicuously off the coast of New York’s prestigious Hampton’s. The 840-acre island sits unlabeled on most maps for good reason. Plum Island houses a research compound where experiments on the world’s most dangerous bacteria, viruses, and microbes are performed.

Founded after WWII, Plum Island was created as a research center for biological warfare. Scientists at the lab were charged not with developing biological weapons for use against humans, but rather for use against the animal food supply. So, Plum Island took on the appearance of a defunct farm. Cattle and pigs were penned on the island, infected with various ailments like Lyme disease and the hand, foot and mouth virus.

Dubbed “the safest lab in the world”, Carroll points out this wasn’t always the case. Faulty ventilation allowed pathogens to escape the lab and raw contaminated sewage was pumped onto the area’s waters. Carroll even creates a compelling case that Plum Island’s lapses in safety protocol are responsible for Lyme disease’s emergence in the United States. The first outbreaks of not only Lyme disease, but also West Nile Virus occurred within a few miles of the lab. The U.S. Department of Agriculture denied the presence of these organisms on Plum Island at the time of the outbreak, but lab records show otherwise.

Carroll’s careful research and even visit to Plum Island itself weave together a somewhat disturbing tale of bioterrorism research. It explores the dire consequences mismanaged government can have as well as offers a glimpse into U.S. efforts, both past and present, into bioterrorism. While some have called Carroll’s assessment of the lab unfounded and his attribution of certain disease outbreaks to Plum Island itself falsities, his research appears unbiased and well supported.

As nurse practitioners, we treat patients for illnesses like Lyme disease and West Nile Virus but are often unaware of their history. Whether or not you agree with Carroll’s assessment of Plum Island and the government’s handling of bioterrorism efforts, Lab 257 is an interesting, well-written read giving though-provoking insight into the global health problems we face.

What did you think of Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Germ Laboratory?

Keep up to date with the ThriveAP Book Club! Next month’s pick is My Sister’s Keeper: A Novel by Jodi Picoult.


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