BIOWAR LAB IN BOSTON?
In Massachusetts, there is a proposal to build a biowarfare
laboratory in an urban neighborhood. The mayor of Boston
and the governor are in favor of it, but residents are concerned
(see excerpts below, or the URL for the full article).
This is another example of dubious government policy, related
to the public safety. A biodefense lab faces the same basic
problem scenario that we have in trying to fight terror-
Preventing 99.9% of all possible incidents is not good enough.
Having even a single incident can be a major disaster.
The long-term odds tend to be working against you.
Probably, the first time that a major incident occurs, that
can't be covered up and blamed on Mother Nature
(as might be the case with lyme disease and the Plum Island
facility), then there will probably be a new conventional
wisdom born: Maybe is really isn't a good idea, after all,
to put biowar labs in major population centers.
Too bad that the politicians can't figure that out, up front,
without needing a demonstration of how the best-laid
precautions can manage to be inadequate.
Opposition grows to BU's biodefense lab plan
Facility could house pathogens
By Katherine Lutz, Globe Correspondent, 8/19/2003
Community opposition is mounting to Boston University Medical Center's
proposed $1.6 billion biodefense laboratory, a facility designed to house
the deadliest agents known to man, including Ebola and smallpox,
in the South End.
Fifty Boston residents from Dorchester to Jamaica Plain protested
in front of the Medical Center recently, concerned with the safety risks
to adjacent neighborhoods and what they said was BU's lack of community
outreach. Over the last month, local politicians, including Boston City
Councilor Chuck Turner and state Representative Gloria Fox, have come
out against the research lab, joining a growing list of community groups
Boston University is one of six known institutions across the country
vying for the lucrative biodefense lab, although federal officials will not
disclose all candidates. The NIAID expects to make a final decision on
who gets the lab in September.
Currently, the United States has three working Biosafety Level 4 facilities,
the only labs secure enough to hold the world's deadliest pathogens,
according to NIAID's website. The NIAID and other government agencies
believe there is a "serious shortage of high-level biocontainment
a shortage that could hinder development of new treatments and vaccines.
In June, a dozen community groups and local politicians led by Alternatives
for Community & Environment sent a letter to NIAID, concerned with
the public health threat posed by the facility.