LULAC Letter to Massachusetts HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders

Secretary of Health and Human Services
Marylou Sudders
One Ashburton Place
11th Floor
Boston, MA 02108

Dear Secretary Sudders,  

We are writing to request a meeting with you to discuss our concerns about recent accidents in high containment BSL laboratories and to present some proposals that we believe will minimize risks to the citizens of Boston.

The Mission of the League of United Latin American Citizens is to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of the Hispanic population of the United States. Annually, LULAC engages its network of 135,000 community volunteers, 1,000 local councils, 60 community technology centers and 14 LULAC National Educational Service Centers to empower Hispanic families through direct service programs and advocacy in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The League of United Latin American Citizens recognizes and promotes the need for healthy and safe communities and for environmental justice. Members of the Roxbury Safety Net and residents throughout the City of Boston have expressed opposition to locating a Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) bioterrorism research laboratory in the South End/Roxbury near Boston Medical Center that would perform research with select agents that can be used in biological warfare. LULAC endorsed the position statement of Safety Net in opposition to Boston University’s Bioterrorism Lab and urged the Boston City Council and the Mayor to pass an ordinance prohibiting research in BSL4 laboratories within the City of Boston.

The LULAC Resolution was adopted by Massachusetts State Convention May 2006 as well as at the National Convention the same year for the following reasons.  
The proposed bioterrorism research laboratory would be the first BSL4 laboratory in a densely populated urban neighborhood in the United States; and the health and safety risks from the laboratory are serious because there can be no guarantee that agents that cause incurable diseases may not accidentally or intentionally be released from the laboratory; and, the laboratory might be a target for terrorism; and there is no guarantee that the lab will operate in an open and transparent manner and that there will be sufficient public oversight and review of laboratory research with bio warfare agents; and the laboratory is incompatible with the nearby residential neighborhood, medical campus, and hospital that is the primary provider of free care in Boston.

In the past year, the Director of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control has publicly admitted to numerous and on-going violations of routine safety protocols that endanger the lives of laboratory workers.  In addition, recent laboratory inspections have reported the disappearance of vials containing incurable pathogens.

On 8/21/14, a letter was sent to Mayor Walsh from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice containing a multitude of signatures of those who share concerns and "the lack of trust in BU to implement and maintain a culture of safety."

Recently, in the CDC's Atlanta based biosafety level 4 lab, a lab worker accidentally confused some specimens from an Ebola experiment and sent an un-killed (live) sample to a lower-level lab where workers handling the specimens had minimal protections. A technician there had to be quarantined for 21 days. Other serious errors have involved mishandling of anthrax bacteria and the discovery of forgotten vials of deadly smallpox in a cold-storage room at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

If our world-renown CDC, with over 50 years of practice and experience, is being unsuccessfully challenged with difficulties in monitoring its own facilities, then Boston University with much less experience is not likely to fare better within its 18 core laboratories.

In fact, safety lapses continue to occur in academic and government laboratories across the country. An average at least four per week involving regulated pathogens. The risk to public health from such laboratory accidents has increased because scientists are now creating highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses. An accidental infection in such a setting could trigger an outbreak that would be difficult to control in a densely populated city.

After considering all the numerous problems and violations at the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, LULAC is taking the lead to request that you call for a public health and safety moratorium on the CDC's permitting processes and procedures for the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories & Bio-Defense until the Congressional hearings concerning their numerous safety and protocol violations have been completed and findings published.

Boston University's National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories & Bio-Defense 18 core laboratories will need an extraordinarily arduous and labor intensive oversight strategy which should include, but not be limited to, frequently unannounced inspections. We, along with your help, must continue to ensure that all levels of HHS are taking extraordinary steps to protect the taxpaying residents, students and tourist of Boston, as well as, all of Massachusetts. Implementing new safety regulations and updating existing ones can do just that. Once again, we ask that you call for a public health and safety moratorium on the NEIDL permitting process. We look forward to meeting with you in the near future.

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