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Last Updated

31 Jul 2003

Source: Boston Herald, July 31, 2003

BU bioterror lab bugs neighbor

by Jennifer Heldt Powell

Klare X. Alen is worried that anthrax, smallpox or some other dangerous disease will seep into the community if Boston University Medical Center builds a high-security bioterrorism research facility near her home.

Despite assurances and promises from those who want to build the laboratory, the Roxbury resident is worried that the new laboratory will change the face of her neighborhood, attracting expensive housing current residents can't afford. She's also worried it won't bring jobs for those who live in the area.

Armed with her fears, the community activist and mother of four will hit the streets today to join a protest against the proposed laboratory.

She and others hope they will be heard in Washington, where officials are deciding which one or two of five finalists will be allowed to build a research facility to investigate the most dangerous bioagents in the world.

"I just want everyone and their momma to know that this facility is being built,'' Alen said. "I don't want to tell people what to think about it, but I'm disturbed that people don't know about it.''

Today's event is being organized by the Alternatives for Community and Environment.

University officials say those opposed to the project are misinformed. They say there will be hundreds of jobs at all levels, economic development in the community and extreme safety measures.

As evidence, they point to the pristine safety record of the existing six similar facilities in North America, several located in urban areas. There has never been an environmental accident at the facilities.

The BU lab would handle only very small amounts of the biohazardous materials and will follow strict standards, said Dr. Mark S. Klempner, Boston University Medical Campus provost for research.

"I think there is a general lack of appreciation of the intensity of the safety oversight,'' he said.

Klempner said the project has strong community backing, despite some protesters.

"There are always going to be some people who resist change,'' he said.

The facility would be 225,000 square feet, but only a small portion, about 40,000 square feet, would be dedicated to research with deadly agents.

The project, if approved in September, would be built close to Boston Medical Center. It would generate nearly $3 billion in economic activity over the next 20 years, Klempner said.

There would be about 1,300 construction jobs generated to build the lab. Once open, there would be 600 scientific and support staff.

Although there are already six such facilities in North America, more are needed to fill a research gap, Klempner said. The existing facilities are good at detecting diseases but not at finding vaccines, treatments and cures. The Boston site would be dedicated to that work.