AR-News: Oregon Bioterrorism Research Lab Opposed

Pat Wolff wolffnm at
Wed Jul 30 07:23:42 EDT 2003

Audience challenges plan for bioterrorism lab
The Oregonian



HILLSBORO -- Oregon Health & Science University faced
its most hostile audience this week in its sales pitch
for a top-security bioterrorism research laboratory at
its West Campus in Hillsboro. 
About 60 people, many of them animal-rights activists
and not from Hillsboro, asked Monday night why a lab
studying the deadliest viruses known was a good idea
for an urban area. 

At a meeting of Citizen Participation Organization 9,
which covers portions of Hillsboro, several city
residents spoke against the plan, including Geneava
Butterfield, who lives about a mile from OHSU's campus
on Northwest 185th Avenue north of the MAX light rail.

"It seems incredibly irresponsible for anyone to put
something this high level in the middle of a region
where we are," Butterfield said. "Maybe I've seen 'The
Andromeda Strain' too many times, but I don't think
anything is truly secure." 

But three OHSU staff members, including Provost Lesley
Hallick, tried to convince the audience of the safety
of a level 4 biosafety laboratory, which would develop
vaccines against viruses such as ebola, smallpox and

OHSU has applied to the National Institutes of Health
for a $200 million grant for three facilities,
including a level 4, or highest-security facility.
OHSU now has a level 3 lab, which studies
less-dangerous infectious diseases, at its West

Hallick said there has never been an accidental
release or animal escape from any of the level 4
facilities, which are in Georgia, Maryland and Texas.
She compared such a facility to a submarine, saying
that seven layers of security separate the viruses
from the community and that all contaminated material
is destroyed on site. 

In addition, workers are never alone in the lab,
reducing the risk that an employee would steal a
virus. If the lab is attacked by terrorists, the
viruses would be destroyed before they could escape,
Hallick said. 

"Viruses are incredibly easy to kill," Hallick said. 

No word on application The ongoing debate could be
irrelevant if OHSU hears from the National Institutes
of Health that it didn't make it past the first round
of applicants. OHSU officials have said they are the
only institution that has applied for the grant and
not heard whether it will get a lab. 

The audience Monday heard presentations from OHSU and
Matt Rossell, a representative of In Defense of
Animals. Rossell worked for two years as an animal
technician at OHSU's Oregon National Primate Research
Center in Hillsboro and is a critic of OHSU's
treatment of monkeys. Rossell said the grant
application is not about good science. 

"Basically what they want is money," Rossell said.
"This is all about dollars." 

But Hallick said OHSU applied for the grant because it
has the skills and science to do the work, and the
country desperately needs the research to battle
viruses such as SARS and West Nile virus. 

Hallick also denied claims that OHSU delayed a public
announcement of its plans and hasn't encouraged public
debate. Unlike some other universities that announced
plans in December, OHSU waited until February. But
that was because its proposal wasn't finalized until
then, Hallick said. 

"We have been very public," she said. 

That could continue with another forum in Hillsboro.
Mayor Tom Hughes agreed two weeks ago, under pressure
from citizen activists, to invite OHSU to a
city-sponsored meeting in Hillsboro. But the city has
not issued an invitation, hoping that word from the
federal agency will come soon, said Barbara Simon, a
city spokeswoman. 

Hallick has said, and repeated again Monday night,
that she would not hesitate to live near a level 4
biosafety lab. But Yakov Kharif of Portland seemed to
sum up the feelings of a majority of the audience --
and earned a round of applause -- with a comparison to
the doomed nuclear reactor in the Soviet Union's

"Everything is possible," he said. "So please move it
far from this area." 

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