Boston University lobbying for biosafety research lab

The Associated Press State & Local Wire
September 30, 2004, Thursday, BC cycle

BOSTON: Boston University Medical Center is taking its message of the benefits of a proposed $1.6 billion high-security biosafety research laboratory to the people.

The center has installed hundreds of ads - with the slogan "Finding Cures. Saving Lives." - on subway cars and buses, just days before a hearing on the Biosafety Level 4 lab called by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The agency must approve construction of the facility, where scientists would study the deadliest biological agents known to mankind.

The thrust of the ads, which are aimed at residents of the South End and Roxbury neighborhoods, where the lab would be built, is to explain that the facility would not pose a risk, but instead would foster treatments for lethal diseases,

A year ago, the National Institutes of Health granted BU and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston $120 million each over a 20-year period to build and operate the labs, which are scheduled to open in 2007.

The facilities are to be part of the Bush administration's campaign to broaden the nation's defenses against bioterrorism.

BU is paying $27,100 to place 509 ads on Orange Line subway trains and 100 ads on Silver Line buses for eight weeks, according to Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The MBTA lines bisect neighborhoods where opposition to the lab has arisen.

Ellen Berlin, medical center spokeswoman, said the ad campaign is being paid for by the university out of a general account, and not with money from the federal lab grant.

Critics of the proposed lab had placed their own ads on the MBTA a few months back.

"Our reaction to the (current) ad is that it's another example of BU providing false and misleading information about the lab," said Tomas Aguilar of the Alternatives for Community & Environment Association which has led the fight against the lab. "This is too important for a decision about the lab to be made based on an ad campaign."

The proposed lab is expected to house hundreds of scientists in space suits researching vaccines and handling deadly agents such as anthrax, plague, and smallpox.

At the three other top-level laboratories already operating in the United States, security measures include armed guards, maze-like hallways that prevent quick escapes and the manipulation of germs with mechanical hands.

There currently are three operational Level 4 laboratories, located at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the Army's Fort Detrick in Maryland and the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio.

For more on biodefense labs at universities, visit the Sunshine Project