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Date:  Nov. 29, 2007
Contacts:  Bill Kearney, Director of Media Relations
Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer
Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

NIH DRAFT REPORT DOES NOT ADEQUATELY ANALYZE RISKS OF BIOCONTAINMENT LABORATORY PROPOSED IN BOSTON
 
WASHINGTON -- A National Institutes of Health draft assessment of the risks associated with a proposed biocontainment laboratory at Boston University is "not sound and credible," according to a National Research Council report requested by the state of Massachusetts.  The laboratory would include a Biosafety Level 4 facility for the study of deadly pathogens and be situated in Boston's South End district as part of the BioSquare Phase II project.  The committee that wrote the Research Council report did not comment on whether the South End, or an alternate location, is an appropriate site for the proposed facility.
 
"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," said committee chair John Ahearne, emeritus director of the ethics program, Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, Research Triangle Park, N.C. 
 
The draft risk assessment is intended to form the scientific basis for a supplemental final environmental impact report after the Superior Court of Massachusetts rejected an earlier environmental impact report.  The supplemental report has not yet been submitted by Boston University.
 
The Research Council committee said that the draft does not adequately identify, or thoroughly develop, worst case scenarios for the release and spread of a pathogen.  While the committee commended NIH for working with the community to identify pathogens to include in the scenarios, this process appears to have led to the selection of pathogens that do not fully address matters raised by the state.  One of the committee's main concerns was that the draft assessment does not effectively examine highly infectious agents, and therefore is not representative of a worst case scenario.  A more acceptable analysis would have included agents that are readily transmissible and would have demonstrated that the modeling approach used recognizes biological complexities, reflecting what is known about disease outbreaks and being appropriately sensitive to population density, for example.  A rationale for which release scenarios were included would also have been useful, the committee noted.

 

In addition, the draft assessment does not contain the appropriate level of information to compare the risks associated with alternative locations in suburban and rural settings for the laboratory, the committee added.  Again, considering pathogens that spread more easily would improve analyses of how risks vary depending on location.  The committee also was dissatisfied with the draft assessment's consideration of environmental justice issues and how the biocontainment facility could affect an inner-city population in particular.
 
The Research Council report was sponsored by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  A committee roster follows.


Copies of TECHNICAL INPUT ON THE NIH'S DRAFT SUPPLEMENTARY RISK ASSESSMENTS AND SITE SUITABILITY ANALYSES FOR THE NATIONAL EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES LABORATORY, BOSTON UNIVERSITY are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). 

 

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[ This news release and report are available at HTTP://NATIONAL-ACADEMIES.ORG ]

 

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Board on Life Sciences

 

COMMITTEE ON TECHNICAL INPUT ON THE NIH'S DRAFT SUPPLEMENTARY RISK ASSESSMENTS AND SITE SUITABILITY ANALYSES FOR THE NATIONAL EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES LABORATORY, BOSTON UNIVERSITY

 

JOHN F. AHEARNE * (CHAIR)
Executive Director Emeritus
Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, and
Director Emeritus
Sigma Xi Ethics Program
Research Triangle Park
, N.C.

 

THOMAS W. ARMSTRONG
Senior Scientific Associate
Exposure Sciences Section
ExxonMobil Biomedical Sciences Inc.
Annandale, N.J.

 

GERARDO CHOWELL
Assistant Professor
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Arizona State University
Tempe

 

MARGARET E. COLEMAN
Senior Microbiologist
Environmental Science Center
Syracuse Research Corp.
North Syracuse, N.Y.

 

GIGI KWIK GRONVALL
Assistant Professor of Medicine, and
Senior Associate
Center for Biosecurity
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
Baltimore

 

ERIC HARVILL
Associate Professor of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases
Department of Veterinary Science
Pennsylvania State University
University
Park

 

BARBARA JOHNSON
Owner
Johnson & Associates LLC
Herndon, Va.

 

PAUL A. LOCKE
Associate Professor
Department of Environmental Health Sciences
Division of Toxicology
Bloomberg School of Public Health
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore

 

D. WARNER NORTH
President
NorthWorks Inc.; and
Consulting Professor
Department of Management Science and Engineering
Stanford University
Belmont, Calif.

 

JONATHAN RICHMOND
Chief Executive Officer
Jonathan Richmond and Associates
Southport, N.C.

 

GARY SMITH
Chief
Section of Epidemiology and Public Health
School of Veterinary Medicine; and
Associate Scholar
Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics
University of Pennsylvania
Kennett Square

 

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

 

MARILEE SHELTON-DAVENPORT
Study Director

                                                                       
 * Member, National Academy of Engineering