Controversial BU Biolab Faces Environmental and Security Review

A state judge has ordered further review of Boston University’s high-security biolab in downtown Boston, where scientists are working with the world’s deadliest germs, such as Ebola, anthrax and rabbit fever, The Boston Globe reports.

The Globe reports the public ruling yesterday by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Ralph D. Gants found that earlier assessments of the environmental impact of the lab in the South End of Boston failed to adequately consider alternative sites or weigh worst-case scenarios for release of viruses or bacteria.

According to the article on Boston.com, this decision could mark a victory for opponents of the facility, known officially as the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories.

Gants said the decision by the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs to approve the lab "was arbitrary and capricious" and "lacked the necessary rational basis," the Globe reports.

He subsequently demanded a new state-level review, although it will not stop construction of the $178 million Albany Street building, but it will suspend some permits issued by the city and state, the Globe reports.

In his court statement, Gants concluded the potential health and environmental risks could be potentially catastrophic, and concluded the project needed a more robust review. However, Gants was clear to say the decision did not indicate the court didn’t want the biolab project to proceed or that it couldn’t be safely located in the South End.

A recent article in CSO magazine, Front and Center, looks further into the controversy surrounding the lab’s security issues and how Kevin Tuohey, executive director of operations and safety at Boston University Medical Center, is dealing with the facility’s safety and public relations.

One active South End resident, Klare Allen, told the Globe that the court’s ruling was great news for the neighborhood and predicted it could prevent the lab project from becoming another tragedy like the Big Dig tunnel collapse.

Ellen Berlin, a BU spokeswoman, told the Globe the university will appeal the decision and that construction will continue.

The article states the lab’s design has extraordinary measures to ensure that lethal agents cannot escape or be removed. In existing Level-4 labs, armed guards monitor checkpoints, labyrinths of hallways make quick escape impossible, and scientists wear protective suits while working with deadly compounds.

Compiled by Paul Kerstein

For more information on Boston’s biolab, read Front and Center.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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