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Outbreaks and Safety Concerns in Biodefense Research

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 populated areas.

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? Why?

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 them—so no, this is not just about our community here.

Submitted by:
Melody Parsa, 2004 intern