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Protesters to challenge BU biolab in court on Thursday

Protesters of the Boston University National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories are set to renew the fight against the biolab in court after the lab received state approval in March, according to a Thursday press release from resident group Stop the Bio-Terror Lab.

The coalition will challenge BU and the National Institutes of Health in the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse, a federal courthouse for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, on April 11.

“The STOP the Bio-Terror Lab Coalition will face the National Institutes of Health and Boston University in a fight to save the Boston community from the threat of accidental release of lethal, weaponized pathogens,” the release stated. “This fight has been going on for over ten years.”

Since BU received a grant to construct the biolab in 2003, it has been met with criticism. Opponents of the biolab claim it is a health risk to the surrounding community.

In January, the NIH released a final risk assessment finding the biolab to pose a minimal risk to the area. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts then granted approval in March, allowing biolab officials to begin applying for state permits to expand research.

However, the Stop the Bio-Terror release stated that the NIH report did not sufficiently address risks.

“After over six years of assessing the possible risks posed by the proposed biocontainment lab, the NIH has not been able to adequately prove that this lab would not endanger the lives of the communities around it,” the release stated. “The National Research Council, which is a part of the National Academies, has faulted NIH’s assessments in the past as being ‘not sound and credible.’”

BU spokeswoman for the NEIDL Ellen Berlin could not be reached by press time.

“The process was very thorough and provided ample opportunity for community involvement,” Berlin said in a Jan. 15 interview with The Daily Free Press. “An important part of the process was that esteemed scientists believe that the methodology of the review was sound.”

Berlin said in a March 2 interview that there were significant steps made to gather community input.

“There was an extensive community process and NIH undertook a very significant and thorough risk analysis and it took a lot of time,” she said. “They were very deliberate about their work.”

The release stated that NRC officials find the risk analyses to underestimate the stability of protective equipment in the biolab.

“This is evidence that a bio-terror lab in a location as densely populated as Roxbury and the South End could cause major damage to residents and the environment,” the release stated. “The NIH, however, disagrees and issued a final Record of Decision in January 2013, which ended all investigations into the risks of a bio-terror lab in Boston. This is what we are challenging.”
Construction on the lab was completed in 2009, but legal challenges and negative feedback over perceived threats prevented research on dangerous and infectious pathogens from beginning.

If approved, the lab will conduct research on biosafety Level 3 and Level 4 pathogens and diseases including SARS, anthrax, Ebola, pneumonic plague and 1918 H1N1 influenza.

Researchers began working with Level 2 pathogens including tuberculosis in April 2012.

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