Roadblocks remain for Boston University biolab

Boston University's National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory may be one step closer to working with biosafety level 4 pathogens, but multiple hurdles remain, including the resolution of state and federal lawsuits.

On January 2, the National Institutes of Health issued a supplemental record of decision to affirm that the NEIDL poses minimal risk to the surrounding community, a necessary step for conducting BSL-3 and BSL-4 research. The decision reignited a federal lawsuit from residents of Roxbury and South End that was on hold until the NIH released the risk assessment, the Boston Courant reports.

"The case is now back on the active docket," Mina Markarious, an attorney representing the residents, said, according to the Boston Courant.

The plaintiffs for the lawsuit claim that the NIH risk assessment study for the biolab inadequately addresses potential risks to the neighboring community and is too dense to be accessible by the general population. The lawsuit opens a 45-day or longer window to file additional briefs in support of or opposed to the biolab.

Karen Allen, a Roxbury activist who is among the resident plaintiffs, said she expected approval from the NIH, given the federal government's investment in the facility.

"The federal government is the one funding the lab," Allen said, according to the Boston Courant. "Once you invest $141 million, what can you say? It wasn't surprising to the plaintiffs. I think that the NIH exists for a reason, and that is to put a lot of money into research. So that's what they do."

A lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts is on hold until the state issues its own risk assessment decision. Beyond the resolution of the pending litigation, the lab must be approved by the Boston Public Health Commission and the Massachusetts Secretary of Energy before BSL-3 and BSL-4 research can be conducted.

Ellen Berlin, a spokesperson for the lab, said that if the state approves the laboratory research and the lawsuits are easily settled, the lab would be approximately a year away from conducting the research.

According to the plaintiffs, allowing the research is an outcome that they cannot afford to let happen.

"This has been a very long battle, and we are coming down to the wire," Allen said, according to the Boston Courant. "We're literally fighting for the lives of folks in Massachusetts."

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