Tuesday, April 22, 2014

NIMBY in Boston - the town and gown debate preventing, or causing, bioterrorism

When a country is faced with a dangerous threat, the country needs to counteract that threat. Unfortunately, sometimes the counteractive measures are themselves dangerous.

Take Biosafety Level 4 Agents:

Biosafety levels (BSL’s) are assigned to designate the level of biological containment used when an agent is studied or manipulated in the laboratory setting. Biosafety level does not correspond to the level of contagiousness of an agent from one individual to another. Agents studied at BSL-4 are indigenous or exotic agents capable of causing severe disease through the inhalation route of exposure, and for which there is no treatment or vaccine.

Obviously, it would be nice if there WERE treatments or vaccines for such agents.

You know where this is going.

It's going to Boston:

More than 300 Boston University officials and Boston residents attended a hearing at City Hall Wednesday to debate an ordinance that would ban BU from conducting research on deadly pathogens in its National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories.

City Councilor Charles Yancey’s proposed ordinance would prohibit research on Biosafety Level 4 agents in Boston, which look at dangerous and potentially fatal diseases and viruses.

On the one side, you have Boston University, which this research is presently conducted.

“This vital research can be done safely and securely in Boston,” said BU’s Associate Provost for Research Gloria Waters. “Beyond making important scientific contributions, the NEIDL will also spring the local economy. The facility is expected to bring in $45 million in federal funding. It sends a clear message that Boston is open for business, scientific advancements and life-changing research.”

On the other side, you have certain City Council members.

In the proposed ordinance, Yancey claims that deadly biological agents researched at the NEIDL could be released to the public accidentally or stolen and “weaponized.”

“My concern is that the research that will be taking place in this facility can cause very serious risks to the health and safety of the people of Boston,” Yancey said at the hearing.

City Councilor Tito Jackson echoed Yancey’s fears, and said he does not want to put first-responders at risk in the event of an accident at the NEIDL.

“It would be reckless and irresponsible to invite a Level 4 lab into the city of Boston,” he said. “The research would take place on pathogens for which we have no known cure. Just one human mistake can be catastrophic for the rest of society.”

If the ordinance is passed, and such research is banned within the city limits of Boston, this does not necessarily mean that Boston will be a safer place. In fact, it's possible that the entire National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories could just pick up stakes and move outside of the Boston University Medical Campus to a new location outside of Boston's city limits.

And even if it's not worth it for Boston University to remain committed to this research, the research will still be conducted at other places. And as Boston knows all too well, someone with a grudge (a scientist who lost funding, maybe?) could conceivably take a "weaponized" biological agent anywhere.
blog comments powered by Disqus