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Judge Orders Further Review of Boston Biolab

Global Security Newswire

A Massachusetts Superior Court judge last week ordered Boston University to prepare another environmental assessment of the infectious disease laboratory it plans to build in a city neighborhood, The Boston Herald reported (see GSN, May 19).

The $178 million Biosafety Level 4 laboratory in the city’s South End would study contagious diseases, including smallpox, anthrax and others that could be used in acts of bioterrorism.

The ruling Thursday by Judge Ralph Gants could slow or stop plans for the facility, the Herald reported.

Gants stated that the previous university environmental impact report on the project failed to address two issues that “virtually anyone learning of the proposed biolab would reasonably ask.”

Those issues were: a worst-case scenario in which a laboratory staffer is infected with smallpox or another contagious disease, and whether locating the facility outside of Boston would reduce its environmental impact.

The only worst-case scenario considered was an anthrax release within the laboratory.
“There were far more serious ‘worst-case’ scenarios that were never identified or considered,” Gants wrote in his ruling. In addition to an accidental infection, he cited removal of a pathogen for sale or extortion by an employee and the hijacking of a shipment.

“I view this decision as a complete victory, and we look forward to the kind of serious environmental review that should have been conducted in the first place,” said attorney Douglas Wilkins, who represents neighborhood residents who sued to stop the project. “Any serious review of alternatives should lead BU and the secretary to conclude this is not the place to put a level-four bioterrorism lab.”

The former Massachusetts environmental affairs secretary had signed off on the first report, according to the Herald. Boston University plans to appeal the decision.
“The secretary’s decision and the environmental review process were reasonable, comprehensive and complete,” said spokeswoman Ellen Berlin.

Berlin said contractors would continue clearing the planned facility site (Donna Goodison, The Boston Herald, Aug. 4).