In 1942, during the early days of World War II, U.S. intelligence warned President Franklin Roosevelt that the Axis Powers were developing germ-laden bombs. The President’s response was, among other actions, to establish at Camp Detrick, a research effort into both biological weapons and medical defenses against them. Building 470 was completed in 1953, at a cost of $1.3 million, part of the nation’s Cold War defense against the continuing threat of biological warfare. The seven-story building served as a pilot plant for production of bacteria with potential as weapons: Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax; Francisella tularensis, the cause of tularemia, or rabbit fever; and Brucella suis, which causes brucellosis, sometimes called undulant fever.
With the U.S. renunciation of biological weapons in 1969, many buildings (although Building 470 was not among them) that had been dedicated to biological warfare research were deeded to The National Cancer Institute, decontaminated and renovated for cancer research. In addition, approximately 70 acres on Fort Detrick were designated as a campus for the National Cancer Institute. Building 470 was vacated, decontaminated, and has been used as a storage facility since 1971.
Much later in 1988, the National Cancer Institute acquired Building 470 with the expectation that it, too, might be converted to research laboratories. After feasibility studies, however, the consensus was that the building was an anachronistic design. Because of its configuration, NIH concluded that conversion and renovation would not be cost-effective. However, employees continued to use the building as a storage facility.
Over the years Building 470 has deteriorated badly and now poses a safety hazard due to significant structural instability of the masonry and the structural steel framework. The National Cancer Institute has cordoned off walkways and thoroughfares surrounding the building to minimize the hazard to vehicles and passersby. Because of its condition, NIH plans to dismantle the building in 2003.