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Illinois Closing Its Animal Disease Lab in Galesburg

T.J. Carson
The Galesburg Animal Disease Lab is on South Lake Storey Road, across from the Carl Sandburg College campus.

The Illinois Animal Disease Testing Laboratory in Galesburg has  conducted tests on dead animals since 1976.  The testing is done to determine the presence of West Nile virus and other diseases.  But the facility is scheduled to close at the end of April.

The closure is due to the lab's loss of accreditation. It failed to retain accreditation because it no longer has  a veterinary pathologist on staff due to retirements.  Illinois Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Rebecca Clark said a nationwide search did not yield any candidates. Clark added vet pathologists now tend to work at universities, where they can do research or teach classes.

But Carlene Erno, President of AFSCME Local 2615, which represents the lab's 11 employees, said the state was not willing to put up the money to bring in a qualified pathologist.

"The state is offering $30,000 less as a starting wage as opposed to what the average pathologist makes," Erno said.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture declined to comment about salaries for veterinary pathologists.

Employees of the lab were notified on March 1 about the closure. They were allowed to come to Springfield this week to find other jobs in the Department of Agriculture or any other state agency. Erno said that's not fair to the lab's workers, who have only a couple months to move to Springfield for a new job or commute two hours each day from Galesburg for work.

The state previously had two animal disease labs. The state closed the other facility in Centralia in 2012 as part of budget cuts under then-Governor Pat Quinn.

Illinois has an intergovernmental agreement with Indiana to do the testing when the Galesburg lab closes. Eventually the work will be done at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine after it earns accreditation for the work.