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Outbreaks and Safety Concerns in Biodefense
An Interview with Eve Lyman
Eve Lyman is the director of Boston Mobilization
(www.bostonmobilization.org), a youth activism organization run
by students from a variety of backgrounds. Th organization helps
youth find their voice and promotes involvement with community and
political issues. Ms. Lyman is also one of the founders and the
US coordinator in Afghanistan for the grassroots organization Afghans
for Civil Societies, based in Kandahar.
What is your most significant fear/concern
about the government-proposed high level (BSL-3 and 4) labs?
The main concern for us is the total lack of transparency and public
oversight. We are obviously also concerned with the placement of
the labs in a city like Boston that is very densely populated. The
Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta has actually released
a recommendation in the past not to have high-level research labs
and facilities in areas with dense populations. So you can see,
the government is going against its own past recommendations as
it pursues its plans in our town.
The government states that such labs are necessary for preserving
our national security and maintaining emergency preparedness in
case of crises: Do you agree or disagree?
Yes, we do believe they are necessary in many respects for our national
security. However, we do not believe they are an absolute necessity
here, when labs already exist in other parts of the country--for
instance on military bases such as in Maryland, in more sparsely
The government claims that the labs are only for defensive
measures. Is it a valid fear that the activities and research in
the labs are also for offensive means to create weapons?
We are extremely concerned over the potential activities that will
take place within the labs. It is a very real concern of ours, especially
as a result of lack of transparency and poor information the public
has received from the University. We do not feel that Boston University
(BUMC) has been cooperative in answering our concerns over the type
of research that will be done, and are afraid we will never truly
know what is going on behind the lab doors.
The University claims the labs will actually benefit the
community by providing jobs and revenue: do you agree or disagree?
No, I don't fully agree with that statement. Yes, in some
respects it will give the city of Boston the notoriety of being
the Bio-research capital of the country, but it will not give much
back to the residents. The jobs that will come with the lab will
not match the qualifications of the residents who need the city
jobs in the lower income communities. What will happen is that people
from outside of the city will come here for those positions, and
therefore the Bostonians who do need jobs will not gain any benefits.
And also to point out again, it is simply not beneficial for public
health. We also do not have very clear-cut answers and statistics
from BU as to the long-term benefits of building the lab.
In regard to the lab-related outbreaks of SARS and polio earlier
this year overseas, do such incidents justify your groups beliefs
on the safety and security of the labs?
Yes, we do refer to the SARS incidents more than with the polio
case. They say the labs where these accidents took place are excellent,
but what it comes own to, is the human error fact. It does not matter
how high the security capability of the lab is, human error can
easily occur and that is a huge problem and concern for us.
If the lab were built despite your efforts, what could the
government and the hosting facility do to make the community feel
less fearful and reassure citizens of the purpose of the lab?
If the lab were built, there would need to be great amount of public
oversight. The government has said things were safe in the past
that turned out to be false, and that could very well happen in
this case. The aim for us in the community would be to know we have
some sort of oversight in the activities taking place in our neighborhood
that can put us at risk in any way. The University should be more
accessible to the community when concerns and questions come up.
Since this issue has been on debate, BU has certainly held meetings.
However, they do not publicize them, and sometimes the general public
is completely unaware of such hearings until the day before, when
they learn of them through other organizations like ours, such as
Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) which also encourages
public participation. Fortunately, the new University public relations
spokesperson is changing and improving relations between the school
and the community.
Does your group simply want to stop the building of the lab in your
community or completely? For instance, if the government took its
plans to the next city on its list of hosts, would you help their
community fight the developments?
Yes, we have been building alliances with a number of organizations
and would be more than willing to provide information and other
materials necessary in their struggle to protect their communities.
We originally started with the issue of environmental justice, but
the more we have come to learn about the labs the more we question
and doubt the motives, and concept of themso no, this is not
just about our community here.
Submitted by: Melody Parsa, 2004 intern