National Institutes of Health Report Fails to Analyze Lab Risks

By Laura Spadanuta, Assistant Editor

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) draft assessment of risks associated with a proposed Boston University (BU) biocontainment facility is "not sound and credible," according to a report by The Research Council.

The proposed laboratory would include a Biosafety Level 4 facility, which could study some of the world's deadliest agents. It would be located in Boston's South End district.

A release from the National Academies quotes John Ahearne, who chaired the committee that wrote the report:

"The NIH draft report has serious weaknesses, in particular regarding selection of pathogens and lack of transparency of the modeling, leading the committee to conclude that the draft is not sound and credible."

The NIH's draft assessment is meant to be the scientific basis for a supplemental final environmental impact report from BU. The university's initial report was rejected by the Superior Court of Massachusetts.

Among the complaints The Research Council had regarding NIH's draft assessment were the following:  it does not identify worst case scenarios for the release and spread of pathogens; it does not effectively examine highly contagious agents; and it does not contain enough information to compare the risks associated with alternative locations for the laboratory, such as in suburban or rural settings.

The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, which are included in the National Academies. For more information on Boston's biocontainment laboratory regulation and on laboratory safety in general, read the November issue of Security Management magazine.




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