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?”