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Boston asked to block bioterror lab

Nearly 150 scientists and scholars asked Boston city officials to block plans to build a bioterror lab in the heart of the city because it could pose "catastrophic risks" to the public.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nearly 150 scientists and scholars asked Boston city officials Tuesday to block the building of a bioterrorism lab in the heart of the city, saying it could pose “catastrophic risks” to the community.

The scientists, along with neighborhood and environmental groups, sent a letter to Mayor Thomas Menino and city councilors asking them to reject Boston University’s plan to do research on deadly agents in Boston’s South End.

“There are real and potentially catastrophic risks to the health and safety of people in the local and surrounding communities,” the letter said.

Menino spokesman Seth Gitell said the mayor supports the lab and is confident it does not pose a risk. “It means jobs now and into the future,” Gitell said.

The scientists who signed included Harvard, MIT, BU and Boston College faculty members. Among them were Dr. Eric Chivian and Dr. Bernard Lown, co-founders of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Noam Chomsky, the MIT linguistics professor and political activist, also signed.

“I have become very strongly convinced that this laboratory does not serve a public health function,” said BU School of Public Health professor Dr. David Ozonoff. “In fact, it’s counterproductive with respect to public health, and it does present risk to the community.”

BU got a $128 million federal grant for the lab last fall, and the University of Texas received funding for a similar lab. The two facilities will join the five other North American labs that already handle such germs as anthrax, plague and Ebola.

The project still needs federal and state environmental reviews and approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

BU spokeswoman Ellen Berlin said that the laboratory will be safe and that the plan has support from researchers in the region. “We believe that Boston is the best place for this laboratory,” she said.