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News :: War and Militarism
Report questions safety review of BU biolab
20 Nov 2010
The National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories will allow researchers to work with the world’s deadliest germs. The National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories will allow researchers to work with the world’s deadliest germs. (Evan Richman/Globe Staff/File 2007)
By Kay Lazar, Boston Globe, Nov 19
Government scientists have not adequately assessed the risks to public health from a controversial high-security research laboratory at Boston University, according to a report made public yesterday by a panel of independent scientists.

The National Research Council report, the latest in a series of critical reviews from the group, said the government scientists and their contractors failed to address the most fundamental safety issues: what could go wrong at the facility and the resulting consequences. The panel is advising the National Institutes of Health on how to improve its ongoing environmental safety review of the lab project, which sits complete but not operating in the South End on BU’s medical campus.

The facility, known as the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, was designed to allow researchers to work with the world’s deadliest germs, including Ebola, plague, and Marburg virus.

Attorney Peter Shelley — vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy organization that sued to block the facility from opening — said the report validates residents’ concerns that BU has either misled the public about the risks or has relied on faulty assessments of the dangers.

“If they can’t get that right, how . . . are they to be trusted to run a facility in an area that is basically impossible to evacuate if there was a problem,’’ Shelley said.

“We are talking about diseases that could spread through the population of Boston,’’ he said.

Boston University released a statement yesterday saying it is disappointed that the government’s contractors did not address all safety concerns previously raised by the panel.

“Although we firmly believe that the high-containment laboratory can be operated safely, we are also convinced that the additional scientific analysis to test our belief is vital to the project’s credibility and is something to which the community is entitled,’’ the statement said. “Unless the final report is thorough, complete, and scientifically sound, the permitting of the laboratory cannot proceed.’’

The National Institutes of Health said in a statement that it is reviewing the criticisms of its latest work and is in an “interim stage’’ in the review process.

“NIH is committed to completing a thorough supplementary risk assessment for the Boston University [lab] that will respond to the concerns of the state and federal courts, the Boston community, and the general public,’’ it said.

Representatives of the National Institutes of Health and BU were unable to say when the lab might open, but the government is projecting it will have a completed risk assessment ready for public comment early next year.

Residents from the South End and Roxbury turned to the courts in their eight-year battle to block the project, winning partial victories before state and federal judges. Those courts allowed construction to proceed, but also mandated further safety reviews.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar (at)
© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

Copyright by the author. All rights reserved.
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