Biodefense showdown leaves $198M lab in limbo

A $198 million biodefense lab complex has been completed at Boston University Medical Center, but a group of determined activists has so far been able to stop scientists from doing any work in it.

The scientists who plan to conduct research inside the high-security lab insist that their work will be safe and will be solely devoted to helping guard the United States against a bioterror attack. But neighborhood groups say that having a local lab host research on anthrax, bubonic plague, Ebola and other deadly pathogens presents an unacceptable threat. And a group of skeptics in the scientific community continue to insist that the work could be used to create new, and terrible, weapons.

The fight against the research project has also put a spotlight on other problems experienced by biodefense labs. Of particular note: Texas A&M paid a million-dollar federal fine after confirming that federal officials were never notified when one of its researchers was infected by the potentially lethal bacterium Brucella. And other staffers were accidentally infected with Q fever. The FBI also believes that a mentally unbalanced scientist at a top biodefense lab was responsible for anthrax attacks that killed five people.

A Congressional report last December concluded that no single agency regulates high-security labs-the federal government doesn't even know how many there are--and their rapid growth was triggered new security risks.

- read the article from the Los Angeles Times

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