Environmental Injustice' Charges Leveled Against BU Lab

There were many more questions than there were answers about the proposed Biochemical Facility on Albany Street in the South End, as Boston University School of Public Health officials faced City Council members and concerned citizens during a meeting of the Committees on Environment and Historic Preservation.

The university has sought to build a laboratory studying chemicals used in bioterrorism. BU officials have promised the facility will be safe, and furnish jobs for area residents.

Dolly Battle, representing Roxbury Safety Net said of the Boston University representatives, "They didn't really answer any questions. They were really evasive about what was asked."

City Councilor-at-Large Felix Arroyo was also frustrated by the answers he received from Dr. Mark Klempner, Associate Provost for Research at BU's School of Public Health. Arroyo's colleague District Eight City Councilor Michael Ross noted that it would take more than one hearing to answer all of the questions.

"I think it is very important that the information gets out there," Ross said.

Dorchester People for Peace member Patricia Nunn of Brockton had to leave before the meeting was adjourned. In an interview with the Reporter she said, "The City Council members gave a good show of at least trying to gather the facts."

Dorchester City Councillor Charles Yancey is one of several councillors critical of the lab.

Despite the number of times and the way the question was asked, the BU representatives asserted that the proposed facility was for research only and would not be a facility for the construction of biological weapons.

During his opening remarks Richard Towle, BU senior vice president, said, "There will be no classified research conducted in this facility. There will be no biological weapons research."

The BU people also spoke to the safety and security procedures being planned for the facility. They noted that the plans call for several redundancies to keep any possible accidents contained within the facility and that the facility will be built so that most of the space will be for security purposes.

But residents remained unwavering in opposition. During her time at the podium, Battle charged, "We are not getting the truth from Boston University."

The plans for the proposed facility are being opposed by some BU departments. Patricia Hines with the School of Environmental Health and one of her colleagues rose to speak against the facility.

She charged that the neighborhoods of Roxbury and Dorchester, which are close to the Albany Street site, "…are the most burdened with environmental injustice."

Hynes defined the term as the placing of facilities and businesses in minority neighborhoods that do not directly benefit the neighborhood and that have the potential to cause physical harm to the residents.

Nunn, a registered nurse for over 30 years, questioned what she heard about the safety plans. "Over 60,000 people die from hospital acquired infections," she noted. "The people are becoming resistant to Vanomycin, the top wonder drug."

During the testimony, Klempner said that the organisms that would be used in the Level Four research facility would only be partial organisms. He added that the research material would be shipped into the facility in a safe state and then grown in very controlled environments to be experimented on.

According to Klempner, the waste disposal from the site would be in three parts, including chemical treatment, heat treatment and then shredding. However, he added there would not be any incineration.

Klempner said that there are five level four facilities throughout the country and that Atlanta Georgia has two of them He added that between all of the facilities there is over 70 years of experience and there has been no major incidents.

This fact was questioned by Hynes, who claimed there were documented reports of accidents at other level four facilities.

ACD (Alternatives for Communities and Development) claim the lab will be used for research on pathogens that can be used for biowarfare as set forth in NIAID's (National Institute of Allergy and Infectional Diseases) Biodefense Research Agenda, not for research on AIDS/HIV, tuberculosis, or malaria.

The BU representatives said the lab would only be used for research on infectious diseases. They said they had an understanding with NIAID and the National Institute for Health (NIH) that the facility would be owned, operated and administered by the school.

BU also claims that they can produce some of the paperwork to back up this claim and that the rest will be on hand before construction starts on the facility.

The facility is being financed in part by a $1.6 billion grant from the NIH. Towle said the School of Public Health and the Boston University Medical Center (BUMC) would be putting up the rest of the money.

In answer to questions from Ross, Towle said that the City would be the first to know if an accident were to occur at the facility. He added that BUMC is "the ground zero for Boston's emergency services."

The facility is slated to be a part of the BioSquare Research Facility that is already under construction at the BUMC campus along Albany St.

According to Towle, the facility will be a source of many permanent jobs for the community and neighborhoods as well as many employment opportunities during the construction phase.