After years of opposition by the neighborhood, the Boston University biolab scored a victory this week through the approval of federal regulators that the lab poses "minimal risk" to the community.
Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories located on Albany Street on BU's medical campus in the South End was built four years ago, but has been tied up in legal and other battles over whether or not the lab would be able to research some of the most deadly infectious substances known to man.
For this latest approval, an independent panel of scientists from the National Research Council evaluated the scientific validity of the National Institute of Health risk assessment of the facility.
“The NIH conducted an exhaustive review of the lab and its findings were affirmed by an independent panel of eminent scientists on the Blue Ribbon Panel," said John R. Murphy, PhD, interim director for the NEIDL. "The NEIDL will be an important addition to life science research in our region and its work to improve public health will have local, national and global impact.”
In March of last year, the facility opened to research BSL-2 level germs, which are less deadly than the intended BSL-3 and BSL-4 substances the facility was built to research. In April, more than 100 residents turned out to protest the lab moving forward with researching the deadliest germs.
Those opponents are still against the lab, even with hearing the latest federal risk assessment.
In a letter sent to the National Institutes of Health in August, the organization of neighbors working to block the biolab stated the NIH "had not engaged in a thoughtful consideration of why a project involving dangerous research like the NEIDL can justifiably be located in a densly populated, urban, EJ neighborhood, especially when undeniably safer alternatives exist."
"The assessments were not changed since our last letter in August, so our position on the issues in those letters has not changed," said Mina S. Makarious, an attorney at Anderson & Kreiger who represents the South End neighbors.
Even with the latest federal approval, the biolab still faces a number of further hurdles to reach approval for researching the most infectious diseases, including approval from the Boston Public Health Commission, and specific projects must gain approval by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
BU spokeswoman Ellen Berlin told the Globe the facility would most likely not be fully operational by 2014.