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    Residents oppose BU biolab for deadly diseases in South End

    About 100 people gathered Thursday night for a hearing in Roxbury to voice their disapproval of a controversial Boston University science lab.

    Area residents filled the Roxbury Community College auditorium, where representatives of the National Institutes of Health listened to concerns over the consequences of allowing the biolab to function.

    The National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, a 192,000-square-foot high-security biolab in the South End near Boston Medical Center, has been tied up by legal challenges and regulatory reviews. The lab is designed to allow scientists to conduct research on the world’s deadliest germs, such as Ebola and plague.


    “I just don’t see any reason in the world why we should have the potential for that kind of disaster sitting in the middle of a city like this,’’ said Ronald Shepard, 67, a Boston resident and member of the resident advisory board of the Boston Housing Authority. “There is no such thing as a safe lab.’’

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    At the hearing, federal health officials reviewed the findings compiled by the NIH in a 1,756-page safety document that outlines the potential risks of the lab.

    Citizens have until May 1 to express their concerns. Points raised at the public hearing, or submitted to federal health officials in writing, will be addressed and considered in federal officials’ final safety assessment of the lab.

    In December, state environmental officials granted preliminary approval to allow the lab to open for biomedical research on substances less hazardous than those residents are concerned about.

    Hearings are now being held as the NIH deliberates on approving the handling of more deadly materials.


    Throughout the crowd at Thursday’s forum, angry citizens held up signs reading “NO BIO TERROR LAB,’’ and “Stop the BU Biolab.’’

    Boston University officials plan to use about 16 percent of the building as a Biosafety Level 4 lab for the deadliest germs, said Ellen Berlin, a spokeswoman for Boston University.

    “This meeting is an important opportunity for [the National Institutes of Health] to hear the comments of the community,’’ she said.

    Many of those who spoke at the hearing said that the safety report only addresses the probability of an outbreak, not what would happen if an outbreak occurred.

    Federal officials “cannot answer our questions,’’ said Klare Allen, the coordinator for Stop the BU Bio Terror Lab, a coalition against the lab. “The city is not prepared for this.’’


    Thea Paneth of Arlington, 52, said she is concerned that the laboratory will not be used only for defensive purposes, but instead for offensive purposes.

    “Ebola, anthrax, and the plague, right in the middle of Boston? Give me a break,’’ she said.

    Some who spoke believe public involvement will not be able to halt the process because the lab has already been built.

    “I think this is so politically-based that we are at a tremendous disadvantage,’’ said Richard Orareo, 74, a resident of the Fenway for over 40 years. “In spite of us, it is built.’’

    While most were opposed to the lab, some do favor the controversial research center.

    Kevin Norton told officials and residents that he believes the lab has the potential to do enormous good, and he was therefore in favor of it.

    State Representative Gloria L. Fox, Democrat of Roxbury, attended the hearing and stated her opposition.

    She said that no Level 4 biolab should exist in the “heart and soul, and most densely-populated part of the city of Boston.’’

    Amanda Cedrone can be reached at