Columbus Center gets FDA operation Top seafood scientists to move into new lab at Inner Harbor site

March 28, 1996|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

The Food and Drug Administration's seafood safety research is moving to the Columbus Center in Baltimore, a consolidation that will bring at least 24 of the government's top seafood scientists to the state-of-the-art marine research facility.

"This is a real win not only for the white lab-coat guys, but also to the watermen in Maryland and around the country," said U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who helped hammer out the agreement between the FDA and Columbus Center.

The FDA scientists working at the Columbus Center will conduct research on the sources and prevention of seafood contamination, collect data on contamination trends and related seafood science, and help the nation's $40 billion seafood industry solve problems with seafood harvesting.

Under the agreement, the FDA will lease 20,000 square feet of laboratory and office space for 20 years at the Columbus Center, located off Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor.

The agreement, which will be signed at a ceremony today, calls for the federal government to pay $5 million for the construction costs of the new laboratory and office space and the first year's rent.

Any money left over in that appropriation would be set aside for the second year's rent.

Federal funds also were used to build the Columbus Center, which cost $47.2 million -- $7.1 million less than expected.

Stanley Heuisler, president and chief executive officer of Columbus Center Development Inc., the nonprofit corporation that developed the center, said he expects the new FDA seafood office to be ready by January 1997.

The FDA and Columbus Center officials first began talking about creating a national seafood safety research office at the center in May 1994, he said.

Mr. Heuisler said Columbus Center officials were interested in the idea because the research office would fit state plans to create science research jobs in Baltimore.

"We'll have the top academic and top government researchers working side by side," said Mr. Heuisler.

He credited Democratic members of the Maryland congressional delegation -- Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Benjamin L. Cardin, Senator and Paul S. Sarbanes -- for pushing for the key federal funding needed for the research office.

"We're looking at some of the best seafood scientists in the world locating in Baltimore," said Representative Cardin.

"They won't be working just on science but on real-life problems the seafood industry is encountering. To me [the Columbus Center] is the best site in the country for this type of work."

Already working out of the Columbus Center are aquaculture scientists and other marine experts connected with the University of Maryland's Center for Marine Biotechnology.

Senator Mikulski said that one of the goals of placing all of the FDA's seafood safety scientists in the Columbus Center is to foster "cross pollination of knowledge between the bio-brains" working at the new seafood safety office and the University of Maryland marine center.

Arthur Whitmore, a spokesman for the the FDA, said the agency's Food Safety Inspection Service has been planning to move seafood safety researchers into one office as it prepares to launch its first national seafood safety inspections program.

That program is expected to get started in the next 12 to 18 months.

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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