Letter: South End biolab risks are too high

February 3, 2012

The proposed Bio Level 3 and 4 lab for Boston must be opposed. Despite the many safety precautions designed for the building, there would still be an unacceptable risk to the community if there was ever any outbreak of deadly pathogens. We cannot assume that the latest technology will eliminate all risks. I’m sure that no one in Japan foresaw the tsunami and earthquake that created the greatest nuclear disaster to date at the G.E. Mark I Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. With climate change, we are subject to extreme weather. Until last year, I can never recall tornados in Massachusetts. Even though the lab is probably very well built, it may not be able to withstand a tornado, earthquake, hurricane or tsunami.

We also have to consider the risk of human error. While there are many safeguards in place, the risk of human error cannot be fully eliminated. It was human error and hubris that caused the Titanic to sink. The builders believed that they had developed an unsinkable ship. Unfortunately, we also have to consider the risk of terrorism. The anthrax scare that closed down Congress and affected postal workers in the Washington, D.C. area back in 2001 is speculated to be the result of a disgruntled worker at the lab in Fort Detrick. Transport of the viruses from Africa poses yet another risk. There would be no way to fully protect the containers on the planes and vehicles to and from the airport. Surely, we’ve all had our luggage lost at the airport.

The nurses union has strongly opposed this project, as our hospitals could not contend with an outbreak. There would be no effective alert system and no effective evacuation or quarantine system. While the workers in the lab may have protective clothing and gear, we do not.

Instead of bucking the odds and risking the entire population in the Boston area, prudence and caution should be taken. This project is not appropriate for a densely populated area. In fact, it may not be appropriate for any area. Instead of spending an enormous amount of taxpayer money studying viruses we do not have here and possibly developing bio weapons, we should work on current health challenges. Asthma, heart disease and cancer take a tremendous toll on the lives of people here in Boston. With a fraction of the money, we could create jobs by having a free clinic in the community to treat people with these conditions and really address current public health challenges.

Virginia Pratt, Jamaica Plain