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Boston City Council Seeks To Ban Level 4 Research At BU Biolab

The Boston University National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) on Albany Street. (Lynn Jolicoeur for WBUR)

The Boston University National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) on Albany Street in Boston’s South End. (Lynn Jolicoeur for WBUR)

BOSTON — Boston city councilors are preparing to debate the safety of Boston University’s biolab, where the university hopes to soon begin long-delayed research on some highly infectious diseases.

For years, BU has planned to do biosafety Level 4 research on diseases like Ebola at its seven story, fortress-like structure in Boston’s South End known as the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, or NEIDL. Now the Boston City Council is jumping into the longstanding debate over the lab.

“I’m actually not saying that this science and what is happening here is invalid. It is absolutely, absolutely valid,” Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson said a community meeting Tuesday night in advance of a City Council hearing on a proposed ordinance to block Level 4 research at the lab.

Jackson is one of the sponsors of that ordinance that would prevent Level 4 research at the lab, which is adjacent to his district. He questions the lab’s location in such a densely populated neighborhood that already carries a lot of environmental burdens.

The meeting grew tense, with a profane remark thrown at Jackson by Robert Timmerman, a member of the lab’s community liaison committee, which meets monthly to keep residents informed. Timmerman quickly apologized for what he called his “flip remark.”

BU cleared a major hurdle last fall when a federal judge gave the go-ahead for the lab to do Level 3 and Level 4 research. The university is in the process of transferring Level 3 research on tuberculosis from one of its labs on its medical campus to the NEIDL. But a lawsuit from opponents is still pending in state court.

“Level 4, we are awaiting state court decision and final review by Boston Public Health Commission,” said Steve Burgay, senior vice president for external affairs at Boston University. “Once those reviews are done we would have the ability to move ahead to seek grants to do Level 4 research down the road.”

Mayor Marty Walsh went on record during his campaign last year, saying that as mayor he would oppose Level 4 labs. His office confirms that’s still his position.

The City Council Government Operations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing April 16 on the ordinance to prohibit the high-level research.

Correction: An earlier version of this report inaccurately said the lab is in Councilor Jackson’s district. It has recently been redistricted out of his district and is now adjacent to it. We regret the error.

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