Opponents of BU Biolab Voice Concerns About Safety at Hearing

in In The News
April 20th, 2012

Boston Globe

By Patrick D. Rosso, Town Correspondent, Globe Staff

In Video: Opponents of the BU Biolab voice their concerns about lab and its research of Level 3 and Level 4 pathogens.

Concerned residents, protesters, and politicians turned out Thursday night to voice their opposition to the Boston University Biolab in the South End, where researchers are slated to study some of the world’s deadliest pathogens.

A crowd of more than 100 attended the hearing at Roxbury Community College and raised concerns about the safety of a laboratory built on Albany Street in a densely populated neighborhood.

“I’m opposed to this lab in this community or any community,” said Ian Chinich, a 27-year-old graduate student at Boston University. “The whole idea that this is helping the community and bringing jobs is absurd.”

The 192,000-square-foot, high-security lab, completed in 2008, resides on the university’s medical campus near the Boston Medical Center. Administrators are trying to expand research at the lab to include Level 3 and Level 4 pathogens such as Ebola and the plague.

About 25 protesters gathered outside the auditorium Thursday night before the hearing. They said the lab was not only unsafe but also a way for the United States to stockpile and expand its biological weapon arsenal. The protesters  held signs and chanted “hey hey, ho ho, the Biolab has got to go!”

“The community should have a say in this and it is something people are really fighting against,” said Romina Green, a graduate student at Tufts University. “A lot of these things happen in impoverished communities and it’s unfair.”

City Councilor Tito Jackson, who represents portions of the South End and Roxbury, also attended the hearing to express his opposition to the expansion of the lab’s research.

“We have a highway, a jail, a trash center, and now we have the possible exposure to fatal agents that put the lives of those who live in this community at risk,” Jackson said before the hearing. “We are not going to be accommodating to Ebola or other dangerous pathogens. … I think this process needs to be slowed down and the science needs to be checked.”

The lab is tied up in legal battles with local environmentalist groups and residents, but in December was granted preliminary approval to study less-hazardous Level-2 pathogens such as tuberculosis.

The hearing was organized to discuss the National Institutes of Health’s recently released Draft Supplementary Risk Assessment.

The 1,756-page document evaluated the risk posed to the community by the lab and the probability of a pathogen escaping and harming residents. The NIH, through its study, determined that that the greatest risk to residents, while minimal, is an infected lab worker.

The university plans to use 16-percent of the lab for Level 4 work, but while NIH is confident in its study many residents at the hearing cried foul.

“I just don’t see any reason in the world why we should have the potential for that kind of disaster sitting in the middle of a city like this.” said Ron Shepard, a 67-year-old Boston resident during the hearing with many in attendance nodding in agreement.

Residents said the risks outweigh the benefits and that the two neighborhoods in the closest proximity, Roxbury and the South End, are sick of getting dumped on.

“If a Level 4 pathogen is brought in it puts everyone in danger from the South End to Brookline, it’s not just us,” said state Representative Gloria Fox, whose district includes portions of Roxbury. “We were told it would bring jobs but they’re not for us.”

Residents who would like to provide input on the draft risk assessment can send their comments to NIH by email or conventional mail, but comments must be submitted by May 1.

To submit comments via email send them to NIH_BRP@od.nih.gov

To submit comments through conventional mail, mail them to National Institutes of Health. Attn: NEIDL Risk Assessment, 6705 Rockledge drive, Suite 750 Bethesda, MD 20892-7985.

For more information about submitting comments, click here.

For a copy of the report, click here.

Email Patrick D. Rosso, patrick.d.rosso@gmail.com. Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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