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Regulating High Security Bio-Terror Research
M assachusetts State Representative Frank Smitzik was forced to make liberal use of his gavel in June while chairing the state’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture. An enthusiastic crowd of over 300 fans of the Act to Protect Public Health and the Environment from Toxic Biological Agents repeatedly burst into applause when they felt their side had scored a good point at a public hearing on a pending bill. Representative Gloria Fox, whose 7th Suffolk district includes the proposed site of a high level biological laboratory, is sponsoring the bill. HR 1397, which would provide comprehensive state regulation for Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) labs in Massachusetts.
The Boston University Medical Center (BUMC) has been working to open a National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory, or National Biocontainment Lab (NBL), in the South End of Boston for over two years. The NIH grant-funded project would be only the fifth Level 4 laboratory operating in the United States. According to the publication “Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomendia Laboratories (BMBL) 4th Edition,” Level 4 labs have the highest classification and are for “work with dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high individual risk of life-threatening disease, which may be transmitted via the aerosol route and for which there is no available vaccine or threapy.” A press release from Fox’s office reports, “Presently there are no federal or state laws that regulate high security laboratories.”
the national level, there has been a significant amount of concern
about the lack of federal oversight over a $6 billion-plus expansion
of the U.S. bio-defense program. In a recent article published by
the Institute of Science in Society (www.i-sis.org.uk) entitled
“Bio- defense Mania Grips the Nation” Dr. Mae-Wan Ho wrote,
“Under the newly formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
much defense-related research and development will be exempt from
the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Advisory Committee
Act, and hence there will be little or no mandatory public disclosure.
Originally much of NIAID was to come under the DHS umbrella; this
was blocked by Congressional Democrats, but could change during
the current legislative session.”
In his testimony before the Massachusetts committee, Mark Klem- pner, the provost for research at BUMC, who is slated to co-direct research at the new laboratory, was adamant that Boston University would not conduct any classified research and that “not one nickel has come from the Department of Homeland Security.”
Similar pronouncements in the course of seeking approval for other BSL4 labs have proved to be dubious. In his article Ho reported that, “Officials at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (UTMB) are quietly retreating from a pledge made in 2001 that their BSL4 facility will not conduct classified work.”
The prospect of constructing a laboratory that would conduct research on some of the most deadly biological agents known to humanity—including anthrax and tularemia—in a densely populated urban area, such as Boston, has met with stiff resistance from community activists, public health advocates, peace activists, and others.
Opponents have pointed out that the neighborhood immediately surrounding the proposed site of the lab is home to about 16,721 people per square mile, over four times as many people as the 3,478 per square mile who live in the immediate vicinity of the next most densely populated BSL4 neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia operated by the Center For Communicable Diseases. Lab opponents also charge that situating such a lab in an area that is predominantly Latino and African American is an act of environmental racism.
Opponents of the lab-regulating bill maintain that passage would preclude the construction of Boston University’s laboratory and would, as Klempner said in his testimony, “have an enormous chilling effect on biological research in this state.”
Responding to opposing testimony from the hearing, an aide from Representative Fox’s office pointed out via email that, “Cambridge has strict regulations on what type of biological agents can and cannot be studied. They have not suffered from these regulations and, in fact, are arguably the biotech capital of the world.”
According to records from the hearing, 115 people testified or wrote in favor of the bill and 45 testified or wrote against it. David Ozonoff, a professor of Environmental Health at Boston University, testified that the risk of an outbreak resulting from an accident or an act of terrorism is particularly worrisome because, “unlike chemicals,” biological agents “reproduce themselves and travel in social patterns.”
Long-time community activist Mel King, who attended the hearing, told Boston Indymedia he had come to support the legislation and he was “opposed to the building of a bioterror lab anywhere.” King was dismissive of BU’s PR friendly “humanitarian” rationale for constructing the laboratory—that it would enable scientists to do life saving research into emerging infectious diseases. “There are places in the world where, if conditions were changed, the problems would not be there. I am particularly talking about poverty. We have the capability to deal with this and we don’t need a bioterror lab, especially in an area that has the highest rate of morbidity of any area in the commonwealth,” King said.
Fox’s bill enjoys significant support, both among opponents of BU’s proposed lab and people who support the lab but believe that comprehensive state oversight into the goings on at high security biological laboratories might be prudent.
Klempner maintained that if the bill was passed, “We could not proceed with doing any development until the Department of Public Health and Department of Environmental Protection create a new set of redundant regulations. It would end federal funding for the project.” HR 1397 would provide regulations for the location, construction, operation, maintenance, and security at BSL4 labs. It would require reports regarding current research to regulatory agencies and mandate regular inspection of laboratories. Additionally, the bill would empower a community oversight board for any BSL4 laboratory built in the Commonwealth to help insure transparency of operations and research. The bill would also place a moratorium on the construction of BSL4 laboratories until the structures are in place to carry out state level regulation of the laboratory.
It was unclear whether the effect of this legislation would per- manently short circuit BU’s plans to construct its laboratory, but it was clear that the project was not the first thing on Fox’s mind during her testimony in front of the committee. “We are talking about regulations,” she said, “because we want to save lives.”
David Taber writes for Boston Indy-media and has been published in Zine- world, Up The Ante!, Z Magazine, and the Memphis Commercial Appeal .
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.