• United States



BU Biolab Setback

Sep 01, 20062 mins
Critical InfrastructureCSO and CISOPhysical Security

The National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory being built in downtown Boston to handle deadly pathogens hits a roadblock

The National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory being built in downtown Boston to handle

deadly pathogens was dealt a setback in August when a state judge ordered the university to conduct

further environmental review and risk assessment of the site.

Judge Ralph D. Gants ordered a new review to examine further “worst-case scenarios” and evaluate

alternative sites for the lab. The decision came in response to a suit filed by the community activist

group SafetyNet. While the biolab’s risks are small, Gants wrote, “in an imperfect world, these risks

inevitably exist and must be addressed” beyond the environmental review that Boston University, the

lab’s developer, had conducted thus far.

Boston University said it would appeal the ruling, which did not halt construction at the site. CSO

wrote about the lab and its security director, Kevin Tuohey, who steered the project through many

public discussions about managing risks there (see “Front and Center” at Tuohey declined to comment for

this article.

Gants’s 36-page ruling contains a discussion about riskassessment, management and

mitigation. Points in his ruling include:

” BU’s “worst-case scenario” risk assessment was limited to a release of anthrax coupled with

the complete failure of the ventilation and filtering system. The judge notes that other worst cases exist

that need analysis, among them an infected, contagious researcher leaving the facility and spreading

deadly pathogens through contact with others.

” The judge refuted the idea that background checks on lab employees would sufficiently

reduce the minor risk of malicious acts with deadly pathogens. Citing Soviet-era spies Aldrich Ames

and Robert Hanssen, who had top-secret government clearances, Gants wrote, “If the CIA and FBI, with

their expertise in background checks, cannot ensure that none of their carefully selected agents will

betray their trust, there is no good reason to assume that [BU] need not fear this risk.”

” BU should have included a risk assessment of at least one other alternative site and

measured it against the preordained site in downtown Boston.

Tuohey and company face more hurdles yet. Another suit, filed by the Conservation Law

Foundation in federal court, aims to block the project on the grounds that it violates the civil rights of

low-income and minority neighbors.