BU Biolab Case Returns to Court

Apr 1, 2013 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

CLF and affected community residents will be back in Court on April 11th arguing that the high-level biocontainment laboratory proposed by Boston University (BU) has no place in the densely populated urban environmental justice community of Roxbury/ South End. Please join us in standing up for this important cause by attending the hearing in Boston on April 11th.

As we reported last year, having failed twice before, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and BU have attempted for the third time to adequately explain how the risks associated with placing a high-level biocontainment laboratory (the “Biolab”) that would test pathogens like ebola and the plague are acceptable for an urban environmental justice community. NIH released its latest Risk Assessment in July 2012. For the third time, that Risk Assessment does not meaningfully address the fact that the Boston location selected for siting the NEIDL comes with substantially more risk potential than rural or suburban alternative sites. The final Risk Assessment also fails to fully analyze the ways in which the environmental justice community living near the NEIDL site would be unfairly affected by proximity to the facility. Unfortunately, however, NIH decided that the Risk Assessment was adequate to close out its investigation of the risks of this facility, and issued a final Record of Decision in January 2013. That Record of Decision is the trigger that brought the parties to this ongoing litigation back to Court.

In this case, six plaintiffs (five community residents and CLF), challenge the adequacy of NIH’s Risk Assessment and Record of Decision in the U.S District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Chief Judge Patti Saris of that Court will hear cross-motions for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs’ motion for a permanent injunction against the Biolab, on April 11th in Boston. You can read the plaintiffs’ brief here. Judge Saris’ findings from this hearing will be the final judgment in this case at the trial court level.

This hearing is a major milestone in the case against the Biolab, and community presence in the courtroom is powerful. If this issue is important to you, you need to be there. The details for the hearing are:

BU Biolab Hearing
April 11, 2013
2:30 PM
Moakley Courthouse, 1 Courthouse Way, Boston
Courtroom 19

Moakley Courthouse is located on the waterfront in Boston, and is accessible by transit via the Silver Line (or a 15 minute walk from the Red Line at South Station). Directions to Moakley Courthouse are available here. The courtroom is likely to be busy and may not be able to fit everyone who would like to be present, so please arrive early to ensure a seat. You should bring identification for security clearance and allow extra time for that process at the Courthouse entrance. Anything you bring with you to the Courthouse will be screened by security.

If you care about Boston’s residents – you should be at this hearing. If you care about environmental justice, the importance of hearing the public’s voice, or the importance of transparency in government decisionmaking – you should be at this hearing. This matter is deeply important – for us and our neighbors – and we hope you’ll show your support by standing beside us on April 11th.

Speak Up: Public Comment Period Opens for BU Bioterror Lab

Feb 27, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Boston University (BU) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are preparing a mandatory revised risk assessment for BU’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories (NEIDL), which has received substantial federal funding through NIH. I described the specifics of this risk assessment in an earlier post. The draft of that risk assessment is currently ready for public review. Though we reported in our last post that the public hearing for NIH’s draft risk assessment would be held February 16, that hearing was delayed by NIH. NIH recently announced that the hearing has been rescheduled for April 19 and that they are accepting public comments on the draft risk assessment. Your input in this public process is crucial – here is how you can get involved:

  • Review the Draft Risk Assessment: The first step is to review what NIH has prepared. You can access the draft risk assessment electronically here, and the accompanying Reader’s Guide here. You can also obtain a hard copy of the draft risk assessment and Reader’s Guide in the mail by e-mailing NIH at NIH_BRP@od.nih.gov or calling (301) 496-9838 to place your request.
  • Submit Written Comments: Any member of the public can submit comments to NIH on the draft assessment – that means you! The public comment period closes on May 1, 2012. After reviewing the draft risk assessment, submit your comments to NIH by May 1st via email at NIH_BRP@od.nih.gov or in hard copy to: The National Institutes of Health, ATTN: NEIDL Risk Assessment, 6705 Rockledge Drive, Suite 750, Bethesda, MD 20892.
  • Attend the Hearing: The public hearing on the draft risk assessment has been rescheduled for Thursday, April 19, 2012, from 6:30-9:30 PM at Roxbury Community College, 1234 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA 02120. This is your opportunity to offer comments on the risk assessment verbally. We strongly encourage you to support the local community members opposing this project by attending this public hearing – either to offer comments yourself, or to offer support through your presence. If you would like to offer oral comments, you will need to sign-in prior to the start of the meeting. You can sign-in beginning at 5:30 PM.

Your written and oral comments can be as long/detailed or brief/big-picture as you like – there is no one way to express your opinion. The important thing is that you speak up.

Check the CLF Scoop for more updates or contact me at jrushlow@clf.org with any questions.

BU Denied Request to Operate Hazardous Bioterrorism Lab Without Thorough Review of Risk Assessment

Dec 29, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

While much of Boston was distracted by the approaching holidays, public health and the environmental justice communities of Roxbury / South End scored a victory last Friday, December 23rd, when Secretary Sullivan issued his final decision to deny BU’s request to begin high level research at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories (NEIDL) until a full risk assessment is reviewed by EOEEA.

This decision brings to a close one chapter in a larger, protracted debate regarding acceptable levels of risk for this project, otherwise known as the BU Biolab. Biodefense research conducted at the lab would bring highly contagious, rare and lethal pathogens, such as ebola, to densely populated urban neighborhoods. Members of local communities have expressed strong opposition to the siting of this facility near their homes and schools.

Meanwhile, BU has failed multiple times to assess and justify the risks associated with the NEIDL as required by state and federal statutes. Their assessments have repeatedly been subject to criticism for the poor quality of their analysis. Despite this, BU requested a waiver to proceed with operating the lab – a request that applied to all proposed research for the NEIDL except that which would occur in Biocontainment Safety Level 4 (BSL-4) labs, including BSL-3 research. CLF and other opponents of the lab strongly opposed this request.

Secretary Sullivan’s final decision denies BU’s request to begin BSL-3 research before a full risk assessment is reviewed by EOEEA. We welcome this decision, and consider it to be a victory for the security of the local community and the integrity of the legal process. As stated in joint comments filed last week, we support this decision for the following reasons:

1) It’s the law. The Secretary’s decision is in line with the Superior Court and Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rulings that require the EOEEA to fully review risk assessments for BSL-3 and 4 research at the NEIDL.

2) It’s too risky not to understand the risks. Careful review and oversight of this facility is necessary given BU’s poor track record of reporting accidents in a timely manner and communicating with the community on this issue.

3) The public not only should participate – they are required to. The EOEEA Environmental Justice Policy requires enhanced state review and public participation opportunities because of the proposed facility’s location in Roxbury/South End.

What You Can Do:

NIH’s Blue Ribbon Panel will come to Hibernia Hall in Roxbury on February 16th to hold a public meeting and hear comments on NIH’s draft risk assessment for the NEIDL. CLF will post the time and other details for the public meeting here when they become available. Mark your calendar and join CLF and its partners in seeking to ensure that this facility does not introduce unnecessary risk to an already overburdened environmental justice community.