I take issue with Mary Bellotti's Sept. 5 article, "OHSU loses hefty bid for biolab". First, the article creates the impression that OHSU is "unlikely" to recieve a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to build a Level 4 lab. But according to The Scientist magazine (April 2, 2003), the NIH wants to build at least one Level 4 lab on the West Coast, and only two applicants are contending: OHSU and the University of California at Davis. Since "Davis was a strong contender, but community opposition has forced UC officials to seek alternate sites," OHSU is in a good position. |
Second, Bellotti posits -- without any apparent irony -- that "the need for such research became a prominent issue two years ago in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and incidents of mailed anthrax", even though it is now well-documented that the anthrax used in those attacks "originated within the U.S. biodefense program, where the necessary expertise and access are found" (LA Times, Sept. 22, 2002, et al.). It is not rational or logical to argue that the U.S. government needs more "biodefense" labs to protect itself from the substances currently being created and stored in existing ones.
Third, Bellotti leaves out any reference to the growing community opposition to OHSU's bid for a Level 4 lab in the Portland area, even though she is aware of it, having spoken to members of this opposition at a public meeting (of the Raleigh West Neighborhood Association on August 13, 2003). Concerns raised by opponents and not mentioned by Bellotti include:
More information on local opposition to OHSU's bid for a Level 4 lab can be found at http://www.nobioterrorlab.org.
- the danger posed to the surrounding population if deadly pathogens were released through accident, animal escape, sabotage or theft;
- the lack of accountability to the local population in the case of such a release ("the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 prohibits disclosure of certain information concerning, among other things, quantities of select agents, which researchers are using them and where, and notification of releases" [Davis Enterprise, August 15, 2003]); and,
- the need for a new set of Level 4 labs at all, which Richard Ebright, a biochemist at Rutgers University has strongly questioned (Oregonian, August 3, 2003).