Meanwhile, we’re a big step closer to very scary viruses taking up residence in Boston’s South End

Approval of this lab will likely wipe hundreds of millions of dollars off real estate values in the South End, especially after the first accident, so anyone who lives within Ebola-sniffing distance of the facility should be concerned because not only will they turn into a skin sack of blood, they also will leave the world with an underwater mortgage. In other news, Boston declared a health emergency today because it can't even control the 'flu, let along Marburg. - promoted by Bob_Neer

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now, but all the excitement about Barney Frank and everything else has taken up all my blogging time.  But the story is this: a federal panel, after completely screwing up the first time around, has taken another look and has again decided to sign off on allowing research on the most deadly germs and viruses known – Ebola, anthrax, all of them – in Boston’s densely populated South End.

In a notice published Wednesday [Jan. 2, 2013] in the Federal Register, the National Institutes of Health said that after “careful consideration” it has concluded that Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, which will work with some of the world’s deadliest germs, “poses minimal risk to the community surrounding the facility.” …

Opponents said federal regulators’ final report did little to assuage their concerns that officials have thoroughly considered health risks in such a densely populated neighborhood…. “We still believe there are gaps in the assessment,” said Mina S. Makarious, an attorney at Anderson & Kreiger, a Cambridge law firm representing South End neighbors who have sued to block the lab.

I have thought for years, going back to the very early days of BMG, that building this kind of “Level 4″ research laboratory in the South End made very little sense.  When the report on which this final assessment is based came out a few months ago, criminologist James Alan Fox found its approach to dealing with potential disasters to be unpersuasive:

[T]he coverage of so-called “malevolent acts” is questionable, at best, having been grounded in unsupported assumptions concerning the likelihood of such misdeeds…. No one can say with any degree of certainty whether “they will come,”– whether launching Level 4 research activities will be irresistibly attractive to intruders or insiders wishing to create havoc by releasing pathogens into a highly congested area. BU scientists may wish to experiment with dangerous biological agents, but they shouldn’t experiment with the safety and well-being of the millions who live or work in the surrounding area.

A research lab devoted to the most dangerous of viruses does not belong in Boston, or any urban area. Maybe they should move it to that isolated ballpark in Iowa — a “Field of Nightmares.” After all, the old time ballplayers there are already dead.

Well, we are a big step closer to seeing that lab become fully operational, though pending state and federal lawsuits must still be resolved.  I will simply restate a question I asked eight years ago (yes, BMG has been around for eight years): “If someone were proposing a level 4 research facility for super-scary biological agents in, say, the Harvard biolabs outside of Harvard Square, do you think this ever would have happened?”


18 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. This is a horrendous idea

    We don’t need any Ebola virus Fukushima. This kind of research shouldn’t be allowed near any kind of densely populated areas.

    Look at how many advanced hospitals (and presumably research facilities) lost power or were flooded in NYC from Sandy. What would happen with this kind of facility if something like that, but worse, happened here?

    Or a terrorist attack? Or some really stupid kind of accident, and goodness knows they can happen anywhere.

    And that’s just what I can think about off the top of my head.

    Residents should absolutely, positively refuse this from being allowed to happen — up to and including “occupying” the area and engaging in an old-fashioned sit in, not budging until it’s called off.

    RyansTake   @   Wed 9 Jan 10:14 PM
    • Can we stop this thing?

      If so, how? Agred that it’s an absolutely horrible idea.

      • Margaret Mead has an answer for you

        Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

        The neighbors of this can stop it. They may have to be the sort of activist that we haven’t seen very often in this country for the past 40-50 years, but they can do it, from the ground up.

        They need to be organized, dedicated, savvy and start to reach out and bring awareness of the issue. If they do that, things will grind to a halt and BU will have to find some other place to build their toxic factory — far away from densely populated communities — if it builds something like this at all.

        RyansTake   @   Thu 10 Jan 4:18 AM
  2. Boston University cannot even win the governorship for us Democrats

    Boston University cannot even win the governorship for us Democrats. Three of my nuclear family are BU Terriers and I trust none of them. Sibling Rivalry is a great restaurant, right next to where we funded Senator Elizabeth Warren (Cyclorama) with our Benjamins. Nanotechnology rather than microthanatology should be the thrust of our Research and Development.

  3. I like that MA leads in research...

    …but even here there are sparsely populated areas. Why can’t this facility be located near as few people as possible?

    • Agreed

      We have plenty of small towns in Central and Western Mass. that could use the economic boost, but where you don’t have a quarter of a million people within three miles of the lab. These labs contain some risk anywhere, but in a secluded rural location it would be easier to hide the place away from the bad guys.

      I lived in the South End, just a couple of blocks from the proposed site, when this first came up. People were howling but I guess nobody cares.

    • Took a look at the BU website

      for this lab. Their claim is that it needs to be located near an existing research center in an urban area to promote collaboration among the lab, researchers, and industry. They can’t collaborate by videoconference or drive 45 minutes?

      The only other lab like this I know of is on Plum Island, off the end of Long Island, so isolated nobody’s allowed on the island.

      • There are 5 such labs in the US,

        according to this website. They are located in Manhattan, KS; San Antonio, TX; Galveston, TX; Atlanta, GA; and Richmond, VA. Not sure what the Plum Island facility you’re referring to it – it doesn’t seem to be listed. Curiously, there seems to be conflicting information out there about exactly how many BSL-4 labs we have and where they are located. Or maybe I couldn’t locate the right website.

        • Seems Plum Island

          is an animal disease center that once had a biological weapons center.

        • And herein lies what I can't figure out

          If you believe that this is important research* then why shouldn’t it be in Boston? After all, putting it in a cornfield guarantees that you get second rate researchers. A lab like this requires 1000s of employees, and if you want the best ones, you’ve got to locate it in a place where the best employees are willing to live. Cornfield Iowa doesn’t work. Additionally, it’s not just about full-time employees; it’s also about collaboration, and videoconference doesn’t cut it. Having access to the best medical practitioners, best medical researchers, best university-level researchers, etc. sure seems like it would make the lab more productive, and lo-and-behold those people happen to live and work in Boston.

          If the lab is a good idea, it makes sense in my view to be located in Boston. The Back Bay? Dunno. But given the expertise Boston has in the medical, pharma, sciences, and research areas, Boston sure seems like a logical place to put a research lab.

          * I don’t know if a biolab like this is or isn’t a good idea in the “big picture”. If it isn’t, then we shouldn’t do it anywhere, be it Boston or Atlanta or Kansas…

          • It's just funny

            how it ended up on Albany Street – one of the most densely-populated areas of the city, and also one with relatively low average income. Like I said, if you want it really close to a lot of fancy researchers, why isn’t it in Cambridge? New buildings are going up in Kendall all the time … why isn’t this one of them?

            Also, the notion that researchers can’t or won’t commute 45 minutes to a somewhat less urban area strikes me as silly. People commute way more than that all the time.

  4. If and when something does go wrong

    I bet at least one person in state, local, or federal government says “No one could ever have foreseen this”.

  5. Is there any local authority over this at all?

    Is there any local authority over this? Is Mayor Menino actively opposing? Or is it covered by the Dover Amendment as being “educational”?

    By the way, many on the left won’t want to hear this, but I have come to despise the Dover Amendment. In an effort to prevent certain kinds of snob zoning, it removes any kind of reasonable local zoning say over super-wide swaths of projects. And it turns out that middle and lower income communities are, as usual, much more adversely affected than wealthy towns.

    • Yes But

      You’re awfully late to this party, oceandreams.

      The fact is, there’s plenty of local authority over this. BUT, as with most development proposals, Mayor Menino’s opinion is by far the most important. And he strongly (actively, too) SUPPORTS this lab.

      Many years ago, the state environmental secretary certified that the level 4 lab proposal met state requirements to disclose all environmental impacts. Shortly thereafter, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (otherwise known as the Mayor) signed off on the level 4 lab proposal and the Boston Zoning Commission (otheriwse known as the Mayor) granted their approval shortly thereafter. The Boston City Council (otherwise know as the Mayor) has also reviewed and blessed this project.

      This is why Boston needs an independent City Planning Department.

      • Indeed I am late. I haven't been following, as

        I live more than 20 miles away and tend to follow development issues a lot more closely in my own neck of the woods. I know he’s quite pro-development, but it still surprises me that Mayor Menino would want this in an urban area.

    • Menino supported this.

      Menino supported this lab. Which is why the lab was built before the impact study was even completed.

      The second site considered was Tyngsboro, MA on the stateline with Nashua, NH and this site was rejected because an outbreak would infect livestock, which should make everyone living in the South End extremely grateful to their elected officials that they are though of below livestock.

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