Lab Animals Drowned In Basements During This Hurricane–And It’s Happened Before

By Ashley P. Taylor | November 2, 2012 5:02 pm

lab rat

Though the subway rats may have been able to escape the flooded tunnels during Hurricane Sandy, lab rats in basement cages weren’t so lucky. New York University lost around 10,000 research rodents from a flooded animal facility in the basement of the Smilow Research Center in Manhattan, according to The New York Times.  These lab animals are genetically engineered and/or specially bred with traits that make them good models for human disorders, like cancer, heart disease, and schizophrenia. Creating such research strains can take years. Gordon Fishell, associate director of the NYU Neuroscience Institute, told the Times that he lost 10 years of work in the flood.  A basement animal facility also flooded at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, but staff members rescued many of the animals, ScienceInsider reported.

Research animals have met watery basement deaths during previous hurricanes, but these precedents have not kept research institutions from housing their animals below ground. In 2001, tropical storm Allison drowned research animals in the basements  of  the University of Texas medical school and the Baylor College of Medicine. UT learned its lesson and developed a successful rescue plan, Daniel Engber writes at Slate, moving their animals from the basement to higher ground during Hurricane Ike, in 2008. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina drowned lab animals at Tulane and Louisiana State University, many in basements, according to Engber. Yet NYU’s Smilow Researcher Center, with its basement animal facilities, was built in 2002, after Allison. Engber suggests that research institutions keep their animals in basements despite the flood risk in part to shield them from public view given the tension about using animals for research. The animals are getting posthumous attention now.

Lab rat image via jepoirrier/Flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Daniel

    What the hell? It’s not like there wasn’t any heads-up about this storm! Thank you for exposing this negligence. I hope heads are going to roll.

  • Jumblepudding

    What a terrible waste. I know the whole point of breeding these animals is to vivisect them, immobilize them, get them addicted to drugs, etc, but this kind of pointless death is really sad.

  • Chris

    Where can I donate to the memorial fund?

  • Becky

    It is one thing when there’s an accident, it is another when you knowingly drown 10,000 animals because moving them up a floor may have hurt your image. This really isn’t acceptable! Laws covering labs still require a certain level of humane treatment — there was plenty of time to plan for this flooding and a good idea it might happen, so how the hell does this fall under humane? Even if you don’t care about rats for their life value, the idiotic loss of research value and the pure cost of lab stock lost is insane. >:(

  • kiki2u

    Absolutely inexcusable. So now more animals will have to be bred to die for the experiments. Even from a fiscal point it was stupid not to move them. Some of these rats cost over $50 each due to their genetic engineering. Even at $10 each it is $100,000 flushed. Morally wrong and fiscally stupid.

  • SunnyD

    How much energy does it take to put a bunch of these lab rats in a couple elevators and take them several floors up? Not much, and 10 years of work would have been saved. Wow.

  • JDLovesRats

    This is really messed up. Rats have feelings, feel pain like we do, and are incredibly smart. So to let them drown and suffer is unethical. I’m sorry but if you don’t want people to see that you are using animals for testing, then find another way. Otherwise, please treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve

  • Chris


  • Mell

    It depends on whatkind of disease models the animals are too.

    A commonly-used research model is severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), where the animals have to live in a completely sterile environment. Moving them would be impossible without major equipment. It’s not always as simple as a couple elevators.

  • Gabe

    This is just pitiful. Scientists who lost their work and research animals in hurricane sandy due to flooding in basement vivariums have absolutely no right to complain. They had days of advanced warning and could easily have moved their own personal research animals into their labs above ground. I am shocked that these highly educated and purportedly intelligent people did not think that far ahead.

  • Anjie Pham

    Lab animals are not viewed as sentient, living beings, because otherwise, how can they be treated in such a way? The animals are experimented on in the most horrific of ways and are killed without a second thought. The “scientists” are more likely to save inanimate objects like computers, printers, fax machines, things that they deem to have more worth, than all the lab rats combined. That’s why i no longer buy any product that doesn’t have the “cruelty-free” or “bunny” logo on it. Why should these people and companies profit from treating their lab research so callously?

  • Jessie Jacobs

    Its amazing that these “higher” education places don’t automatically have such plans. Makes you wonder if they left their own pets to die in their basements? I imagine if a fine or more bad publicity follows they might actually get around to doing the right thing,

  • ML

    Truth be told its probably better they died rather than continue living a life of misery and torture. It is disgusting that these animals are used for experiments period.

  • George

    Manhattan has been flooded multiple times in living memory. Frankly, it boggles my mind that *any* underground facility built there in recent decades would lack the ability to seal watertight, let alone one designed to house living animals. The basement should have been watertight, & ground floor entrances should have been sealable, with airways opening to higher floors.

    Sheer idiocy. I wouldn’t even keep paperwork like that.

  • Peryite

    Even if people don’t think this matter, it can’t be healthy to have a bunch of drowned, bloated rat corpses floating around.

  • Gil

    Well it isn’t like you can just keep them any old place or in a researcher’s garage or something. Even with a heads up that the whole lab would certainly be demolished there might not have been another suitable facility with space nearby.

  • Heidi

    I have pet rats; they are intelligent, playful, wonderful creatures. Nonetheless, I do understand their value to science. That these valuable creatures were allowed to die meaningless deaths is a travesty. Lab animals are supposed to be euthanized humanely, not purposely be allowed to drown in kerosene and sewage tainted water.

    Even if there were no other suitable places to relocate the all animals, it seems that at least some of them could have been saved so that the research wouldn’t have been completely destroyed. The disregard for for the lives of lab rats and mice is truly shameful. These animals are sacrificed for the good of humanity and this is how we repay them.

  • JC

    Please. Those of you commenting that there was no thought put into these animals’ welfare or that they weren’t respected or that they “should have” been moved don’t understand the situation. I worked in that facility. We were told that the building could withstand these kind of storm surges. AND the mice were housed in a barrier facility – which means that if they leave they can’t come back in due to quarantine. That means moving them would have meant they were essentially lost anyway. It most certainly is not as simple as putting some mouse cages on an elevator. It would have required space and facilities that were not present, as there were multiple thousands of mouse cages. Hindsight is 20/20. In this case there was no way to predict that the retaining wall in an entirely separate building would fail. Don’t blame the researchers for this one.

  • FAK

    I agree this was an incredible waste. And I’ve had lovely pet rats myself – each has their own personality. However, as JC pointed out, it is NOT simple to relocate 10,000 rodents within the parameters of keeping them safe from infectious disease and keeping the public safe from any diseases the rodents may be carrying, as well as keeping them isolated from each other when contact would be problematic. AND the scientists were told that the basement was safe from flooding. Also, I’m all for treating these animals as humanely as possible, and using cosmetics/detergents/etc that were tested humanely. However, to those of you who are against any animal testing at all, cosmetics and detergents are not the only things tested on animals. Drugs and medical devices and procedures also MUST be tested on non-human animals before human trials are approved — it’s federal law. So if you want to avoid products tested on animals, you must stop taking any over-the-counter or prescription drugs, using any medical devices, or having medical procedures performed. Feel free to make that choice for yourself. However, imagine how many people would die without access to all of these things. Simple infections would kill us without antibiotics. Diabetics would die without insulin. No more pace makers or heart valve replacements or bypass surgery or organ transplants or blood thinners or chemotherapy or HIV treatments. No artificial limbs. No fertility treatments. No pain killers. No antihistamines. No condoms. Enjoy.


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