Building 257, also known as Lab 257, was a United States biological warfare research laboratory located at Fort Terry on Plum Island, New York. Originally intended for munitions storage, the facility researched anti-animal biological agents beginning in 1952 under the United States Army. Biological warfare research continued in the building under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) until a new laboratory was completed.
Building No. 257 at Fort Terry, on Plum Island near Long Island, New York, was completed around 1911. The original purpose of the building was to store weapons, such as mines, and the structure was designated the Combined Torpedo Storehouse and Cable Tanks building. Fort Terry went through a period of activations and deactivations through World War II until the U.S. Army Chemical Corps took over the facility in 1952 for use in anti-animal biological warfare (BW) research. The Chemical Corps planned a laboratory for the fort, to be housed in Building 257. The conversion of Fort Terry to a BW facility required the remodeling of Building 257 and other structures.
As work neared completion on the lab and other facilities in the spring of 1954 the mission of Fort Terry changed. Construction was completed on the facilities on May 26, 1954 but the post was transferred to the USDA before the military could utilize the new laboratory facilities. Fort Terry was officially transferred to the USDA on July 1, 1954, at the time scientists from the Bureau of Animal Industry were already working in Building 257. Construction on a new lab facility, known as Building 101, also began about this time but was not completed until September 1956.
A modernization program in 1977 aimed to update both Building 257 and Building 101, but the program was canceled in 1979 because of construction contract irregularities. Plum Island facilities were essentially unchanged until a new modernization began in 1990. Two-thirds of the laboratory facilities inside Building 101 were renovated and operations in Building 257 were consolidated into Building 101. According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, Building 257 was closed in 1995 and currently poses no health hazard.
The original anti-animal BW mission was "to establish and pursue a program of research and development of certain anti-animal (BW) agents". By August 1954 animals occupied holding areas at Plum Island and research was ongoing within Building 257. Scientists worked with "hot viruses" in the building, known simply as Lab 257 at this point, on animals and in petri dishes. Work was conducted through gloveboxes, steel, windowed boxes outfitted with glove inserts for experiments inside the contained box. The USDA facility, known as the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, continued work on biological warfare research until the U.S. program was ended by Richard Nixon in 1969.
The bio-weapons research at Building 257 and Fort Terry was shrouded in aura of mystery and secrecy. The existence of biological warfare experiments on Plum Island was denied for several decades by the U.S. government. In 1993 Newsday unearthed documents proving otherwise.
In 2004 author Michael Carroll published Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory. Many of the assertions and accusations made in the book are counter to the U.S. government's position and have been criticized and challenged. A review in Army Chemical Review concluded, "Lab 257 would be cautiously valuable to someone writing a history of Plum Island, but is otherwise an example of fringe literature with a portrayal of almost every form of novelist style. The author has unfortunately wasted an opportunity to write a credible history." The book advances the idea that Lyme disease originated at Plum Island and conjectures several means by which animal diseases could have left the island. David Weld, the executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation, commented that "I personally just don't think that has any merit."
- Cella, Alexandra. "An Overview of Plum Island: History, Research and Effects on Long Island", Long Island Historical Journal, Fall 2003/Spring 2004, Vol. 16, Nos. 1 and 2, pp. 176-181 (194-199 in PDF), accessed January 10, 2009.
- Carroll, Michael C. Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory, (Google Books), HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 45-48, (ISBN 0060011416).
- Dunn, Adam. "The mysterious lab off New York's shore", CNN, April 2, 2004, accessed January 10, 2009.
- Wheelis, Mark, et al. Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons Since 1945, (Google Books), Harvard University Press, 2006 p. 225-228, (ISBN 0674016998).
- Lambert, Bruce. "Closely Guarded Secrets: Some Islands You Can't Get to Visit", The New York Times, May 17, 1998, accessed January 10, 2009.
- Bleyer, Bill. "Plum Island Animal Disease Center", from Newsday, via The Baltimore Sun, April 26, 2004, accessed January 10, 2009.
- Kirby, Reid. "Book Reviews", Army Chemical Review, January-June 2005, accessed January 10, 2009.