Joint Statement Urging Secretary Sullivan to Say No to Regulatory Shortcut of BU Biolab

CONTACT:
Ben Carmichael, CLF (617) 850-1743

BOSTON, MA December 21, 2011 – Yesterday, advocates in the fight against Boston University’s proposed National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) in Roxbury/ South End filed joint comments with Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) Secretary Richard Sullivan supporting his draft decision which, if adopted as final later this month, will deny BU’s request to begin high level research at the NEIDL before a full risk assessment is reviewed by EOEEA. These comments were filed jointly by local residents represented by the law firm Anderson & Kreiger,  Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Association (the Lawyers’ Committee).

“We are very pleased to see Commissioner Sullivan recognize that regulatory shortcuts are inappropriate for this facility, which poses a high risk to the local community in the event of an accident,” says Jennifer Rushlow, a staff attorney for CLF.

“Everyone who lives within a 10 mile radius of the NEIDL will be affected by the airborne, incurable, infectious, contagious pathogens that would be tested at this lab if there is a release.  This is a crucial stage in the process.  Those voices need to be heard at the February meeting in Roxbury,” says Klare Allen, leader of the Safety Net, a local group opposed to the lab, and one of the Plaintiffs in the litigation opposing the lab.

As submitted in the comments, the Safety Net, CLF, and the Lawyers’ Committee support Secretary Sullivan’s decision for the following reasons:

  • The Superior Court and Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rulings require the EOEEA to fully review risk assessments for BSL-3 and 4 research at the NEIDL;
  • 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;  and
  • The EOEEA Environmental Justice Policy requires enhanced state review and public participation opportunities because of the proposed facility’s location in Roxbury/South End.
  • The joint comments submitted to Secretary Sullivan today call upon him to finalize his draft decision denying a MEPA waiver for BSL-3 research at the NEIDL, and remind him of his charge under the EOEEA Environmental Justice Policy to ensure that this review process provides enhanced public participation opportunities.  The commenters thanked the Secretary for recognizing that the NEIDL will involve “research on extremely contagious biological agents that could pose serious harm to an already compromised Environmental Justice community…”  They also call on EOEEA to establish a community advisory board to review proposed research in BSL-1 and BSL-2 areas of the NEIDL and monitor BU’s compliance with the terms of the waiver.
  • A final decision from Secretary Sullivan is expected on December 28, and a final draft of NIH’s risk assessment is expected to be issued by NIH in the next few months.  NIH’s Blue Ribbon Panel will hold a public meeting at Hibernia Hall in Roxbury on February 16th to hear comments on NIH’s draft risk assessment for the NEIDL.  The Safety Net, CLF, and the Lawyers’ Committee encourage community members to attend that meeting and provide input.

Background

BU’s proposed facility would focus its research on biological agents used in acts of bioterrorism – a mission the community fears will bring biodefense research on highly contagious pathogens to their backyards.  As proposed, the facility would include research in the NEIDL in each of the four Biocontainment Safety Levels.  Biosafety Level ratings, established by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, increase from 1 to 4 based on the danger associated with research on different biological pathogens and mandate increasing levels of physical protection to prevent a public health crisis in the event that a pathogen leaves the lab.  Members of the Roxbury/South End communities, a densely populated, urban environmental justice community where the NEIDL would be located, have expressed vocal opposition to the siting of this facility near their homes and schools since it was first proposed nearly a decade ago.

BU has attempted – multiple times – to explain and justify the risks associated with the NEIDL as required by state and federal statutes.  Their risk assessments (which must satisfy the requirements for an Environmental Impact Report and an Environmental Impact Statement under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, respectively) have been found to be insufficient and not credible by the EOEEA and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, as well as the National Research Council.  In August, BU filed a written request asking Secretary Sullivan to waive the legal requirement for EOEEA review of all but BSL-4 research at the NEIDL.  The Safety Net, a group of local residents led by local activist Klare Allen, the Coalition to Stop the BU Bioterror Lab, and other opponents of the lab vigorously opposed this request on the grounds that it would deny the Commonwealth the opportunity to ensure that the risks from this facility to the surrounding environmental justice community  had been fully considered.

On December 2, in his draft waiver decision and Certificate on Notice of Project Change, Secretary Sullivan allowed lower level research in BSL-1 and 2 areas of the laboratory to proceed but found that BU’s request to proceed with BSL-3 research was denied on the basis that EOEEA is “legally barred from acting on [BU’s] waiver request for BSL-3 level research until [it is] able to independently review the risk assessment for the contagious pathogens proposed for study by BU at the Biolab.”   He added, “the threat or risk from laboratory research will be from research on extremely contagious biological agents that could pose serious harm to an already compromised Environmental Justice Community in Boston’s South End neighborhood.”

 

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

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