B.U. Biolab Delayed Again, at Least Until the End of 2010

UJP campaign contact: Vicky Steinitz vicky.steinitz@umb.edu

Stop the B.U. Bioterrorism Lab!!

UJP has been a member of the Coalition to Stop the BU Bioterror Lab from the first days of the campaign in 2003.   Because we viewed the proposal to place a dangerous bioweapons lab in the middle of the Roxbury/South neighborhood of Boston as a prime example of the "War at Home", members of UJP community groups formed a Greater Boston committee to support the efforts of Boston residents.  We held educational forums, worked to get state regulations passed and sponsored  resolutions  opposing the lab in surrounding communities.  Five cities/towns – Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, Newton and Somerville – passed resolutions opposing in principle the siting of BSL4 labs in densely populated areas. The opposition from these communities has played a major role in shifting the political landscape from viewing the lab as a “done deal” to widespread skepticism about whether the Level 4 portion of the lab will ever come to pass.

While this was initially viewed as a valiant but very low-probability of success campaign, the Coalition, which includes Safety Net, the Roxbury community group which initiated the Stop the Biolab campaign, the Women's League for Peace and Freedom, the Mass Nurses' Association, the Boston Medical Center SEIU union locals, and a host of other community groups has been remarkably successful.  Since 2007,  the campaign has made great strides. Most recently, the National Institute of Health has comissioned yet another risk assessment which will delay the opening of the lab at least until the end of  2010. 

A chronolgy of recent major achievements include:

1. Community Outrage Evident at Faneuil Hall Hearing On NIH Risk Analysis:   In August 2007, the National Institutes of Health released its Draft Supplementary Risk Assessments and Site Suitability Analyses in which it concluded that the operation of the Boston University BSL4 laboratory would not pose a threat to the South

End/Roxbury community and, indeed, would pose a greater risk to the community surrounding the alternative rural site. These conclusions were so suspect that Coalition scientists looked closely at the methodology and immediately found many flaws in the study.  Stop the Bioterror Lab Coalition members quickly organized to refute the report

In September, more than 300 Stop the Bioterror Lab Campaign supporters from all over the area gathered at Faneuil Hall in a strong showing of opposition to the proposed lab! The public testimony went late into the night with residents, public officials, scientists, nurses, professors, students and public health workers testifying that a high-level research lab in the Roxbury/South End is unwanted, unnecessary, and will make our city and world a less safe place.

2. National Research Council flunks the NIH Risk Assessment:  After showing our strength at the Faneuil Hall hearing,  Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Secretary Bowles took the unusual step of seeking independent scientific evaluation of the NIH's Supplementary Risk Assessment and hired the prestigious National Research Council to determine whether the Supplemental Risk Assessment was scientifically sound.

In October in Washington, D.C. NIH officials presented their case to the prestigious panel of NRC scientists. Representing the Coalition, Professors Ozonoff and Lipsitch gave stinging critiques of the study. One month later, the panel released its verdict.. They said the NIH report used research methods that were so poor the report would not even qualify to be published in a science journal!  The NRC's report was a major blow to BU and other Biolab proponents.

3.  Supreme Judicial Court Rules In Favor Of Roxbury/South End Residents: In December, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts confirmed the decision of Suffolk Superior Court Judge Gants that additional environmental impact studies should be done because previous environmental reviews were inadequate. It upheld the previous ruling that the state's approval of the proposed Level 3 and Level 4 Biolab was "arbitrary and capricious". This means Boston University and the National Institutes for Health do not have state approval or permits to run the proposed BSL3 / 4 lab and  have had to go back to the drawing board and try yet again to do an Environmental Review that adequately addresses the unique threats this lab poses.. 

4.  Blue Ribbon Panel Appointed by NIH to Advise on Next Steps Comes to Boston:  In  June and Oct of 2008, the Coalition mobilized hundreds of residents to let the Blue Ribbon Panel know that residents were adamant in their opposition to allowing this dangerous lab to operate in Boston.  The Panel has developed guidelines for yet another risk assessment of the lab and contracted with a firm to carry out this study.

5. Opening of the Lab Has Been Delayed Yet Again:  In April 2009, NIH informed the federal judge that the latest environmental risk assessment will not be completed until the summer of 2010 which means that the earliest the lab could open would be early in 2011.  But we don’t intend to let that happen.  The Coalition will continue to monitor the review process and insure that community voices are heard.

UJP continues to play a critical role in the Coalition – turning out in large numbers for hearings, lobbying members of Congress, and doing media work.  For more detailed information and updates, check out the Coalition website.

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