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BU disease lab clears environmental review

Boston University’s bid to study some of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases in a South End laboratory has cleared another regulatory hurdle.

The state secretary for environmental affairs issued a certificate Friday indicating that an environmental impact ­report submitted by BU for the National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratory is complete enough to comply with state law.

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The review has been a point of contention for years, with opponents arguing that not enough had been done to ­examine the potential impact of bringing dangerous pathogens to the densely populated city neighborhood, particularly if the lab were attacked.

The state Supreme Judicial Court agreed in 2007 that not enough had been done to ­examine such risks, prompting a lengthy federal review that was completed in January when the National Institutes of Health issued a decision saying the facility posed minimal risk.

State Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard K. Sullivan Jr. found that the review “adequately and properly complies” with state environmental law.

The project, which is funded by NIH, still needs permits for traffic and sewer use and a review by the Boston Public Health Commission.

But Sullivan’s certification “is really the last significant state step that we have to go through,” said BU spokesman Steve Burgay.

The project is still subject to state and federl lawsuits. Christine M. Griffin, an attorney for residents of the neighborhood, said opponents would reinitiate their legal challenge to the environmental review.

Because the lab is located in a neighborhood designated as one where residents have been disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards, state law requires closer scrutiny. The review approved Friday still falls short, said Jennifer Rushlow, an attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation.

The 192,000-square-foot lab was designed to study the most lethal Level 4 infectious agents such as the Ebola virus.

With the state approval in hand, BU said it would begin performing research in the lab on less dangerous Level 3 germs. Burgay said the lab will immediately seek permission from the city of Boston to move tuberculosis research, now conducted in a facility across the street, to the $200 million lab, which has been mostly ­vacant since its construction was completed about four years ago.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@
boston.com
. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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