Zombies attack BU in protest of building biolab

by Beacon Staff • October 14, 2007

"I really wish my insides weren't liquefying!" yelled a zombie protester last month, as he and his fellow zombies staggered down the street in a trance. The demonstrators donned jumpsuits, lab coats, masks and makeup with fake blood oozing from their bodies. They stuck fliers on cars, under doors and into the hands of passersby as they marched from the corner of Albany and Dedham Streets in the South End to Government Center. The Oct. 31 protest against Boston University's planned BioSafety Level 4 laboratory in the Roxbury area.

This "Zombie March Against the BU BioLab" was intended to highlight the highly dangerous possible effects of this "BioTerror Lab." According to bostonbiosafety.com, four years ago, the National Institutes of Health awarded a grant to the Boston University Medical Center for one of two National Emerging Infectious Diseases laboratories. BU's lab is currently in phases four and five of a seven-phase construction plan. The project is supposed to take a total of 30 months and will be completed in 2008. The lab will research highly dangerous and infectious diseases that occur naturally but are often deliberately induced through acts of bio-terrorism.

Stopthebiolab.org, the Web site that backed the Halloween zombie protest, explains, "The most dangerous pathogens known to humanity like tularemia, anthrax and the Ebola viruses, many of which can be transmitted through the air," will be researched in this lab.

The aforementioned germs can be deadly because they are airborne and easily spread.

"These pathogens are incurable and uncontainable," said Pete, a protestor from Somerville who would only give his first name. "There's nothing they [lab workers] can do if an accident happens."

There are safety measures in effect to prevent accidents.

According to the Web sites, "The building will use double High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters and contain redundant systems within the utility, power and mechanical infrastructure. Bio-safety laboratories that include bio-safety level four facilities are one of the most safely designed and constructed types of buildings in the world." It also states that these steps have prevented any environmental release from a BSL-4 facility in North America in 80 years of operations. Despite these precautions, opponents are still concerned that accidents are possible.

An additional concern is that accidents could occur in transit.

"All biological samples that are potentially infectious are packed, shipped and transported by authorized individuals," bostonbiosafety.com explains. "BUMC is notified in advance that a shipment is expected and when it has arrived. Trained personnel are given a schedule of arrival for incoming shipments and are prepared to receive them."

Protesters, however, remained very skeptical of this transportation system.

"The viruses are put into one sealed test tube, then another and then they're put in a cardboard box," said a zombie protester from Somerville named Pete. "It's a joke. Companies like FedEx and UPS are transporting them."

Protesters are concerned about the implications of an accident in such a crowded urban area. They don't feel that this is safe for the local community.

"More than 25,000 people live within one mile of the proposed site," according to stopthebiolab.org. "If the lab is built it would be the only United States BSL-4 located in a densely populated urban neighborhood. Another protestor who would only give his first name, Clay, said just before the march started, "I work just a few blocks away. There are families and kids here."

Despite all the safety measures the lab's Web site cites and training employees must go through, protestor Melanie, a sophomore biochemistry major from Northeastern University who would only give her first name, still has concerns. "College kids shouldn't do this," she said. She said she has received high-school-level lab training in her college classes. She saw people spill hydrochloric acid on their hands in high school and not know what to do. "Okay," she said. "So what if you get anthrax down your respiratory tract?"