Construction of controversial BU Biosafety Level 4 lab to move forward

Published 3 February 2006

BU wants to build an advanced lab on campus to handle the most dangerous biological agents; neighbors tried to block construction, and filed

Boston University’s controversial plan for a research laboratory handling some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens in the city’s South End won final federal approval yesterday. Construction is scheduled to begin this month and is expected to be finished by 2008. University officials say the lab will be safe and will provide valuable research into contagious illnesses and possible bioterror agents. Opponents have criticized the decision to build the lab in a densely populated urban neighborhood. The controversy escalated in 2004, when three workers at another BU lab became sick after they were exposed to a highly infectious strain of tularemia, or rabbit fever, which they had thought was less harmful. All three of the infected researchers recovered, but opponents expressed concern about the university’s ability to manage the proposed Biosafety Level 4 lab which, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH) Web site, would “work with dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high individual risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections and life-threatening disease.”

University officials said the 2004 accident was not relevant to concerns about the new lab because it will have more

The BU lab is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. It is part of NIAID campaign to build two National Biocontainment Laboratories (NBLs) and nine Regional Biocontainment Laboratories (RBLs). One-time grants of approximately $120 million each will fund construction of the NBLs, while the RBLs will receive one-time grants of between $7 and $21 million each in construction funds. Each institution is also required to provide matching funds.

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