Judge allows Boston biosafety lab to continue construction

Published 26 October 2006

Level 4 facility will study deadly microbes such as ebola and anthrax, and so local residents are reasonably nervous; court allows NIH-sponsored program to continue while environmental and public health concerns are reevaluated; possibility left open for a future injunction

Last week we reported on the growing market for equipment for use in America’s growing fleet of biosafety labs. One problem, we noted, was that the construction of the new labs was being stymied in part by local citizens who, not unnaturally, objected vigorously to the very idea that such deadly viruses and bacteria as ebola, plague, and anthrax should find a home in the neighborhood. Of course, those laboratories employ a vast array of security doors, hoods, and full body shielding to prevent release, but as there is little margin for error when it comes to plague, a good portion of time is spent fighting off lawsuits and waging the public relations battle.

One such flash point is Boston University, where the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is underwriting construction of a $178 million Biosafety Level 4 laboratory. Residents in Boston’s South End, where the medical school is located, sued the NIH, saying that the agency had failed to adequately address potential environmental and public health issues. In August, a state judge in a seperate suit ordered NIH to complete an additional environmental review of the lab, which it is doing, but a federal judge ruled this week that construction could continue in the meantime. The ruling, however, left open the possibility that further work could be enjoined in the future, and so parties on both sides left the courthouse knowing they would meet there again soon.

-read more in this Boston Globe report