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News ::
BU Medical Center Wants to House Biological Defense Facility (english)
12 May 2003
Modified: 18 May 2003
Boston University is planning to build a $1.6 billion bioterrorism research facility in the heart of the city's South End community. The proposed network of laboratories will be designated as Biosafety Level 4, a level of security designed for research on the most dangerous and exotic category of disease-causing organisms, including ebola, marburg, lassa, machupo, encephalitis, and several other forms of hemorrhagic fever. The public has a right to know about the potential risks that this facility could pose to its health and safety.
BU Medical Center wants to house the nation's sixth Biosafety Level 4

biological defense facility, and the public hearing is today, May 12th

at 5:30 PM at Boston City Hospital, Newton Pavillion Conference Room.

This is the first hearing for this proposal.

Please come!



A CALL FOR PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

Boston University is planning to build a $1.6 billion bioterrorism

research facility in the heart of the city's South End community. The proposed

network of laboratories will be designated as 3Biosafety Level 4,2 a

level of security designed for research on the most dangerous and exotic

category of disease-causing organisms, including ebola, marburg, lassa, machupo,

encephalitis, and several other forms of hemorrhagic fever. The public

has a right to know about the potential risks that this facility could pose

to its health and safety.

While the BU Medical Center claims that it 3has been reaching out to

community leaders, business leaders and others local residents to open

communications about the project,2 its behavior suggests otherwise.

In a letter to the Council for Responsible Genetics, university officials

said they would not disclose details of any research and construction plans

despite the fact that competing bids from other universities have been

made available to the public. The university also has not held and does not

plan to schedule an open public meeting on the subject.



WHY AREA RESIDENTS SHOULD BE CONCERNED

Labs within two miles of downtown Boston will house many of the World

most dangerous biological weapons. B.U. has argued, with little

evidence, that defense facilities would help the city respond to a biological weapons

attack. But the risks to security may be more substantial. Since

investigators traced the September 2001 anthrax mailings to a former

defense lab scientist at Fort Detrick, Maryland, the nation has learned

firsthand of the potential for biological weapons research to generate

home-grown terrorism. Although Biosafety Level 4 facilities have a

good historical track record, Boston University needs to provide assurance of

strong security measures, including background checks and high-scrutiny

clearances.

Pathogens and infectious agents will constantly move through the greater

Boston area in transit to and from B.U. Medical Center. Recent

events have highlighted the risk of an accident resulting in disease outbreaks and

infection of local residents. On March 20th, 2003, a package

containing the West Nile virus exploded in a Federal Express building in Columbus,

Ohio, exposing workers to the possible infection and causing offices to be

evacuated.

Researchers exposed to biological agents could pose a public health risk

to residents. A Biosafety Level 4 lab, by definition, handles highly

infectious diseases with no known vaccines or treatments. According

the federal guidelines, Level 4 pathogens pose a 3high risk of exposure

and infection to personnel, the community and the environment.

The deaths in 2001 of two biologists exposed to meningitis bacteria at

the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta demonstrate the reality of these

infection risks.

Boston residents and city government will not have a say in the

facility. A national coalition of activists and community groups has called on

Boston University to commit to full public disclosure and active community

oversight over its planned biodefense laboratory

(http://www.gene-watch.org/bubiodefense/). The university has not

agreed to any demands for transparency. In the past, however, community

pressures convinced city governments to impose restrictions and oversight on

high-security research. Similar pressures recently forced the

University of Texas and the University of California at Davis to make their proposals for biological weapons research available to the public.

Secrecy in biodefense research raises suspicion in the international

community. The federal government carries out a substantial amount of

classified research in its biological defense laboratories. Evidence

suggests that B.U. may be continuing the current pattern of

secrecy. The Bush Administration recently blocked the enforcement of the Biological Weapons Convention, which would have mandated inspections of U.S.

biological defense facilities. B.U.1s refusal to commit to

public disclosure raises questions about the peaceful intent of its research

and further undermines global arms control.



WHAT YOU CAN DO

Contact local representatives: the Boston City Council has the power to

regulate or prohibit research on biological weapons agents within its

municipal boundaries. Let the representative from your district know

your views, and organize letter writing and call-in campaigns (see contact

list below).

Call for and hold public meetings: widely-publicized meetings will

provide members of the Boston community the opportunity to learn more about the

B.U. project and to voice their concerns. Call your local churches

and community groups to set up a meeting.

Contact Boston University: B.U. Medical Center1s spokeswoman

recently told the press that B.U. wants to hear local concerns and that "the

community is a very important part of the process." Officials have yet to put

those words into action. Make phone calls, send e-mails, and mail letters to

the address below to make sure B.U. hears from the city of Boston.

Contact the Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG): CRG has a wealth of

information on biological weapons and defense research that may be

useful to you, your organization, your neighbors and community members. To

join our BU Biodefense mailing list, just send us an email with "join BU

biodefense" in the subject line.

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Comments

What's wrong with this? (english)
15 May 2003
What's really wrong with this? I don't see it being a danger or a problem. Look at the article, clearly written by people who don't want the lab:

"Although Biosafety Level 4 facilities have a good historical track record, Boston University needs to provide assurance of strong security measures, including background checks and high-scrutiny clearances. "

Even the article admits to a pretty high level of safety. Yes, it's dangerous to have bioviruses ANYWHERE, but they are clearly handled well enough that nothing has gotten out before. The Anthrax that was developed recently and used in the mail was manufactured at a much more low-tech lab that most fairly well funded schools will have.

If the problem is the secrecy in which this is being developed, then that's okay, too. Unlike programming or engineering, physical security doesn't become any tighter under peer review because the ability to redo it is exponentially higher than something like software.

So then, what's the problem? Possible infection? You can get that when you allow people to come in to Logan via Africa. Who knows what they're carrying? We allow them in because after a certain degree of danger and checking to match that, it's no longer a reasonable probability that anything will happen. Same thing here. Sure, some disaster COULD happen, but disasters can ALWAYS happen. It's just seeing how likely they are and trying to prevent them and it's pretty obvious that this is happening here.

This facility will create more jobs, will make better research available to students and will cement Boston as the foremost biotech city in the country. This is a good thing. Just don't get terrified by words like Ebola. Irrational fear is just that, irrational.
i'm worried because... (english)
16 May 2003
here's two good reasons to be worried, from the article itself:

1. "Pathogens and infectious agents will constantly move through the greater Boston area in transit to and from B.U. Medical Center."
The issue is much the same as the plan for moving all the stored-up nuclear waste from around the country to yucca mountain- it will have to get there somehow, and this means passing through large metro areas where millions of potential victims live. especially when security is privatized, as it likely will be in keeping with the US govt's push toward privatization, the emphasis is more on the bottom line, and less on quality or safety. not to mention, no matter what the safety precautions, we are inviting extremists to target these shipments, and i don't want it anywhere near a metro area.

2. "Boston residents and city government will not have a say in the facility. A national coalition of activists and community groups has called on Boston University to commit to full public disclosure and active community oversight over its planned biodefense laboratory."
As in keeping with our 'democracy' the decisionmaking is in the hands of a tiny elite minority, ostensibly looking out for our best interests. safe to say, at least here on imc, that any attachment to this sentiment has long evaporated among people who are paying attention, including many right-wing libertarians. based on the decisions we see daily emanating from an arrogant, irresponsible, and power-hungry pentagon, i simply dont trust them. not with regime changes, and not with weapons- certainly not with such dangerous weapons, whose use i dont condone in any capacity, including in war.

then there's the issue of turning boston into the world's biotech hub. dont forget, while it contributes taxes to the local economy, we'll be in love with it, but there are Billions of people outside our cozy economic structure who resent the profits we are reaping at their expense, and we are setting ourselves as major enemies of good people around the world, whether it comes to farmers, or indigenous people, or future victims of american biowarfare.

so take your defense bioweapons lab and get the fuck out of our city.
Approve of BU facility or live solo in a cave (english)
18 May 2003
Since its inception in 1946, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have received hundreds of thousands of packages of biological agents, including deadly viruses, from all over the world. The packages have arrived in the United States carried by individuals in the main cabins of airplanes, packed tightly away in baggage comparments, some have even been Fed Exed.

While the CDC and others who globally transport infectious diseases for research purposes try to be as careful as possible, I do not dispute that accidents can occur. But that is the unsigned contract of a global society, and unless you want to close all import to the United States and have us live in a box, I suggest you get used it.

The CDC currently houses hundreds of biological agents that range from the benign to the incurable, but the Biosafety Level 4 area of the CDC's facilities are heavily guarded. By contrast, a recent report on the television news magazine "60 Minutes" by Christianne Amanpour reported that one lab in Kazakhstan provides almost no security at all (http://www.wwjtv.com/rooney/sixtyminutes_story_131201234.html). Anyone can just walk in and take some Anthrax or Plague. Do you know where they can go from there? Anywhere. There are no restrictions on travel to or from Kazakhstan. It is ABSOLUTELY CONCEIVABLE, as mentioned in the "60 Minutes" report, that a person could sneak into this lab at night, pick up some Anthrax, fly to New York City and blow an Anthrax spore-laden powder into the crowd of a sardine-packed subway car at rush hour.

Without the CDC and the World Health Organization the current SARS epidemic would continue to spread out of control.

By the way, all of the information I am giving here is freely available on the CDC's website. I suggest you read some of it and educate yourself. If BU is doing anything wrong, it is in keeping it's facility's statistics silent. Such a facility at the university will provide jobs, as one commentator here mentions. It will also be another avenue for vital research. And I do mean vital. Because of biological agent research smallpox was eradicated in the late 1970s by the systematic use of field scientists, careful study of earlier outbreaks, and trail and error. To reject the proposed BU facility is to say that you do not care for knowledge or for the health of your neighbors, let alone your own. However, if you persist in rejecting the need for this facility then I suggest that you move to Antarctica, Alaska, or somewhere equally cold and remote because if you choose to live in a city - any city in the world - you are statistically at risk of contracting infection. In fact, if you have any human contact at all you are at risk of contracting infection.

I challenge anyone who opposes the BU facility to do away with your telephones and cars so that when you get sick you cannot call for or otherwise seek medical attention. As there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no sick people who don't want a cure.

"Infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, have the ability to destroy lives, strain community resources, and even threaten nations. In today's global environment, new diseases have the potential to spread across the world in a matter of days, or even hours, making early detection and action more important than ever. CDC plays a critical role in controlling these diseases, traveling at a moment's notice to investigate outbreaks abroad or at home.

But disease outbreaks are only the beginning of our protective role. By assisting state and local health departments, CDC works to protect the public every day: from using innovative "fingerprinting" technology to identify a foodborne illness, to evaluating a family violence prevention program in an urban community; from training partners in HIV education, to protecting children from vaccine preventable diseases through immunizations."
--CDC website, www.cdc.gov
There are already contagious diseases here (english)
18 May 2003
They just happen to be living in the bodies of the average Bostonian. Tuberculosis, HIV, pneumonia, and I'd bet even Ebola or hantavirus. The only difference is that there are no safety precautions taken when these people walk around, breathe/sneeze on people, have sex with people, and so on. There is no danger from this lab, only from the animal rights activists who will "liberate" the infected animals into the south end.

Well...at least the rents will drop.