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Mayor Menino to lead biolab tour

Some question research, safety


State environmental officials gave preliminary approval last month to allow the Albany Street lab to open for biomedical research on less hazardous substances.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Exterior view at Boston University high security research lab in Boston.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino will lead a tour of the Boston University biolab today, accompanied by two dozen neighborhood and civic leaders, in advance of what is expected to be the federal government’s final decision on whether to allow researchers to study some of the world’s deadliest germs at the controversial South End site.

Menino, a supporter of the project, said the tour will allow leaders to gain a better understanding of the research that is proposed for the lab, which sits largely empty three years after construction was completed.

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“This type of high-level research is a complement to the city’s medical hub,’’ Menino said in an interview. “The work that will be done there will help save lives in the future. I think BU has gone above and beyond on the security measures.’’

For years, the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory, the official name for the 192,000-square-foot high-security biolab, has been tied up by legal challenges and regulatory reviews. Some neighbors and environmental groups have argued that the densely populated area of the city near Boston Medical Center is not an appropriate or safe place for scientists to be working with lethal germs.

Massachusetts environmental officials granted preliminary approval last month to allow the lab to open for biomedical research on substances less hazardous than those that sparked opposition to the project.

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In August, BU sought a waiver from the state to proceed with research on the less hazardous materials in a biosafety level-2 lab in a section of the facility.

The university plans to eventually use about 16 percent of the building as a biosafety level-4 lab for work on the deadliest germs. However those plans are still undergoing an environmental safety review by the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH had scheduled a February public hearing in Boston on those plans, but issued a statement late Friday, postponing the hearing to “allow time to finalize’’ the draft report. It said the meeting would be rescheduled.

Kay Lazar can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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