Boston infectious disease facility still faces risk assessment hurdle

An infectious disease facility in Boston's South End that has endured years of regulatory hurdles and legal challenges must still receive one final approval for biosafety level 3 and 4 research.

The Boston University facility is the subject of a final risk assessment report by the National Institutes of Health. Once the report is complete, state and federal judges and agencies must approve the decision to allow research on the most dangerous biological pathogens, WBUR reports.

Klare Allen, a local resident with Safety Net, said that the backers of the biolab have yet to answer certain questions about what would happen if a deadly pathogen were to be accidentally or intentionally released into the community.

"How are we going to be safe," Allen said, according to WBUR. "How are we going to eat? How will we be notified? Will there be an alarm? How is it going to be transported? What neighborhoods is it going through?"

Ara Tahmassian, one of the lab's associate directors, addressed such concerns in an interview with WBUR. He discussed what would occur if anthrax that would be studied in the level 3 laboratory of the facility were to escape.

"Well, that's part of what the risk assessment is addressing," Tahmassian said, according to WBUR. "That has taken a number of different scenarios and a number of agents. It sort of has concluded that in almost all of the instances, with the most conservative estimates that they have taken into consideration, the risk to the community is at best negligible. And that has been the practice, and that has been the experience from other facilities. There have been occasional incidents where investigators have gotten infected."

Tahmassian said that while biosafety level 4 pathogens tend to be the most dangerous, person-to-person transmission of level 4 agents is relatively difficult. The NIH is accepting written comments on the draft of the risk assessment report through May 1.

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National Institutes of Health

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