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Outbreaks and Safety Concerns in Biodefense Research

An Interview with Kyle Loring

Kyle Loring is a legal fellow at Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) in Roxbury, Massachusetts fighting development plans for high-level biocontainment labs at Boston University. He is a graduate from Boston College Law School, and completed his undergraduate studies at Boudin College. He can be reached by email at kyle@ace-ej.org. Additional information on ACE can be found at www.ace-ej.org.

What is your most significant fear/concern about the government-proposed high level (BSL-3 and 4) labs?

We believe that it is inappropriate to have such a program in a densely populated urban area like Boston, where there are 30,000 people per square mile. Despite the specifications given by the University and the government, there are no absolute guarantees that there will not be any hazardous leak into the community and cause a serious public health crisis.

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?

The labs will not necessarily increase or help preserve our national security by a great degree. Instead, we believe that they will provide terrorists with better access to harmful agents, whether they pose as researchers or target the labs to hit.

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?


The issue of dual-use dilemma is a very serious matter and does apply here. We believe that in order to be able to test the accuracy of vaccines and therapeutic cures, they would also need to develop and create dangerous biological agents to carry out the experiments. Also, since there has been a significant lack of transparency available to the community, it makes citizens worry about why the activities are not being discussed if they are not harmful. Boston University claims that it will not allow classified research, yet the University is not willing to share any information as to exactly what will take place inside the labs.

The University claims the labs will actually benefit the community by providing jobs and revenue: do you agree or disagree? Why?

Developments will not occur in a community that is potentially harmful to its citizens. Boston already has many environmental problems besides the high-level lab plans that we have been dealing with for years, for instance with air pollution, which has made the area less attractive for public health. We seriously doubt the claims that it will provide the city with any benefits. We have asked the University for a detailed list of the supposed jobs the lab will create and the money it will give back to the city, however we have not received an adequate explanation of numbers and figures to believe otherwise.

In regards to the lab-related outbreaks of SARS and polio earlier this year overseas, do such incidents justify your group's beliefs on the safety and security of the labs?

Yes, those are very real possibilities. We so point to those as examples of problems that can occur in high security labs and also for instance the anthrax release from Fort Dedrick in Maryland, and other lab breaches that show standards cannot stop human error.

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?


Even if it did come to take place, the community would continue to oppose it. Although we have considered our plan of action in that possible scenario, we are concentrating on our current efforts to make sure our community will not be in danger. However, what it would come down to is more transparency from the school and its research 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?

If the plans moved to another location, we would provide information to other activist groups and organizations, and collaborate on potential strategies.

Submitted by: Melody Parsa, 2004 intern