Thursday, November 29, 2007

Conflicting Reactions to Latest on Biolab

There are some initial reactions to questions about BU’s level 4 biocontainment lab in a report by a committee the National Research Council. At the request of the state, independent scientists on the committee weighed in on a draft review of the lab’s safety risk by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). According to the committee, the NIH risk assessment was “not sound and credible.”

The committee said the NIH’s draft review failed to adequately analyze the worst case scenario involving release of deadly and highly contagious germs. The committee also said the NIH draft lacked the “appropriate level” of information for a risk comparison of the proposed location in the South End with less densely populated sites in a suburb or rural area. And the committee said it was dissatisfied with the consideration of environmental justice issues concerning the lab, especially their effect on the surrounding inner-city population.

In a statement issued today, the NIH emphasized the committee was criticizing, not the risk posed by the lab, but only how it was measured. Mayor Menino’s press office and the BU Medical Campus issued statements saying they were confident that concerns raised by the scientists would be addressed in NIH’s final report.

An attorney for residents opposing the plant, Andrew Rainer, says getting to a final report that will fend off the legal challenges will take more than word-smithing. Because the scientists said NIH’s analysis was “not sound and credbible,” Rainer argues, there would have to be a new analysis, which could take months.

An attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, Eloise Lawrence, says it’s “highly questionable” that a federal judge would let the lab open, at least without a new risk analysis. “It is pretty distressing,” she said, “that the NIH, the agency that’s charged with protecting our health, can’t conduct a risk analysis.”