After nine years shrouded by controversy and lawsuits, state officials have granted preliminary approval for Boston University to open its biosafety laboratory in Roxbury for lower-level research.
The “utilization of BSL-2 laboratory research space would result in an undue hardship for the proponent and would not serve to avoid or minimize Danger to the Environment,” according to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs report, dated Dec. 2.
The potential environmental impacts of the Level-2 laboratory are “insignificant,” the EOEEA report added, as there are other laboratories throughout the state conducting this level of research.
In a statement sent to The Daily Free Press on Monday, BU officials said they are pleased with the preliminary decision.
An approval will allow BU to gain permits for the 192,000 sq. foot National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory located in Roxbury near the BU School of Medicine— a high security lab which sat empty, due to legal debate and regulatory reviews, since 2008.
The lab plans to develop diagnostics to fight infectious diseases such as Ebola, smallpox and the plague if the proposed Level-4 research is approved.
In August of this year BU officials asked the state EOEEA for a waiver to conduct Level-2 research while the National Institutes of Health oversee a risk assessment of the Biosafety Level-4 laboratories, according to a Sept. 7 DFP article.
The lab is expected to open in early 2012 and will begin by researching Tuberculosis and performing other experiments approved for NEIDL Level-2 laboratories.
In the statement, BU said it “understand EOEEA’s decision to wait for additional information before granting approval for BSL-3 research and we will renew our request once the data is available.”
From Dec. 7 to Dec. 21 the EEOEA will hold a 14-day public comment period and a final decision is expected at the end of the month.
Klare Allen, the community organizer of Safety Net, a Roxbury group who opposes the lab, said she was surprised to hear the state had made its decision. She said that neither she nor the lawyers representing the group’s lawsuits against the biolab were notified about the approval.
“With Level-2 approval BU is not able to work with deadly diseases, which is where the concern was,” Allen said in a phone interview. “But, we still are greatly concerned. BU doesn’t have a great record with reporting biolab accidents and we need to keep them accountable.”
Safety Net will continue to “push against the man” and prevent the lab from conducting Level-3 and-4 research, Allen said. But, she said, the “battle won’t be won” without support from community members and students.
“Some people see this as a campaign,” Allen said, “other people see it as a life and death issue—that’s what we see this as.”