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Debate Continues On BU Biolab Research Into Deadly Diseases

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 — Hundreds turned out at Boston City Hall Wednesday night to weigh in on a proposal to prohibit certain biosafety research in the city into deadly diseases.

The primary target of the ban would be Boston University’s controversial and new bio-containment lab in the South End.

A Stance Against Science?

It was standing room only in council chambers as At-Large Councilor Michael Flaherty gaveled the meeting of the government operations committee to order.

Boston City Councillor Charles Yancey said his opposition to Level 4 research in Boston is not a stance against science. (Cydney Scott/BU Today)

Boston City Councillor Charles Yancey said his opposition to Level 4 research in Boston is not a stance against science. (Cydney Scott/BU Today)

Several hundred people, from both sides, came for the hearing on an ordinance proposed by City Councilor Charles Yancey to prohibit biosafety Level 4 research in Boston. Level 4 is the designation for work on the most dangerous pathogens for which there is no cure.

Yancey said he’s not taking a stance against science.

“The city of Cambridge has banned Level 4 research,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is going to accuse the city of Cambridge of being anti-research or anti-science.”

Boston University is already doing Level 2 and Level 3 research in its National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories — or NEIDL at the BU medical campus in the South End. Gloria Waters, the university’s vice president and associate provost, said the facility will also serve as a training ground for the next generation of doctors, and she added it provides an economic boost for the city.

“Beyond making important scientific contributions the NEIDL will also strengthen the local economy,” she said. “The facility is expected to bring in approximately $45 million a year in new federal funding which will actually translate into an additional $100 million in related economic activity.”

Councilor Frank Baker, noting the 12-year battle for the research, said residents remain worried for their safety.

“There’s still distrust,” he said. “Who are we supposed to believe here?”

Baker said he’s still trying to decide his position on the ordinance.

Klare Allen, the activist who’s been at the forefront of community opposition, said she wants to hear from Mayor Marty Walsh on the issue.

“I don’t know where the mayor is,” she said. “I know that he was opposed to it when he was running for mayor. I don’t see him now, and I don’t see him speaking up now, and that’s a problem.”

The mayor’s office says he has not changed his opposition to Level 4 research he stated in his campaign, but that he will assess the council’s specific ordinance on the basis of Wednesday’s hearing.

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