BU#039;s game of Russian roulette

by Beacon Staff • November 15, 2006

The facility is called a National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory, or a Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4).,With construction having already started on a biochemical lab in the South End, one thing is clear: Boston University has no regard for the safety of the city's residents.

The facility is called a National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory, or a Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4).

Inside, research will be conducted on some of the world's deadliest diseases, including anthrax, the bubonic plague and the Ebola virus.

This poses an incredible threat to the safety and health of the residents of Boston. Vehicles containing the pathogens will be going in and out of the South End, less than two miles from Emerson's campus.

BU safety officials say benefits of the research outweigh the risks, as the possibility of a major outbreak is small. However, one need only look at the example of Plum Island to be nervous.

Plum Island is a Level 4 animal bio-research center off the shore of Long Island. Despite tight security, residents of nearby Lyme, Conn., often saw deer swimming across Long Island Sound.

Speculation began that these deer first began spreading Lyme disease.

That Level 4 lab is on an island; BU's lab is in the congested South End.

Deer will not be leaving the center and going into the surrounding neighborhoods, but people who have dealt with deadly and sometimes communicable diseases will.

The site has safety systems with redundancies on top of redundancies. No one can argue that precautions aren't being taken.

However, none of this changes the fact that it is a building that houses deadly pathogens. Nor does it mean Bostonians don't have a right to be uncomfortable with the idea. Why does it have to be our backyard?

Apart from the immediate concerns of human health and safety, there are also financial concerns.

A building with a Level 4 bio-research center is certainly not going to bring up property value in the South End. And rest assured, it won't be BU that's going to feel the effects of that.

Residents in these two neighborhoods have tried to put a stop to the lab's construction but have been unsuccessful. The lab is going up, and it can't be stopped now. People have to either get used to the idea or move somewhere else.

Why did BU need to build this site?

Research certainly needs to be done to find cures for these diseases, but the university did serious bidding to get this lab.

The answer is simple: with estimates of about $1 billion in grants coming in to BU over the next decade from the building of this lab, it's quite clear why they decided to sacrifice public safety.

It's indefensible to put a city the size of Boston at risk for an outbreak of the Ebola virus or bubonic plague.

In a big city, there will always be threats and fears. Shame on Boston University for providing one more thing to keep us up at night.