Monday, April 18, 2005

Faulty Aerosol Chamber Infects Three

The Sunshine Project
New Release - 18 April 2005

Faulty Aerosol Chamber Infects Three
NIAID Encourages Use of Leaky Device in BiodefenseChambers are Located in Nine US States, India, New Zealand, and Northern Ireland

(Austin, 18 April 2005) - A leaky aerosol chamber manufactured by the University of Wisconsin at Madison was responsible for three laboratory-acquired tuberculosis infections in a Seattle BSL-3 lab last year. The infections have not been made public until now. Nearly twenty Madison chambers exist across the US and in India, New Zealand, and Northern Ireland. While tuberculosis is not a biological weapons agent, the accident underscores the inherent dangers when working with dangerous disease agents, and the grave safety risks of the US biodefense program, which is encouraging more scientists to deliberately aerosolize bioweapons agents in Madison chambers and similar equipment.

The Madison chamber incident is the latest to be reported in a series of US lab accidents, including infections and/or mishandling of anthrax, tularemia, and pandemic influenza. At the encouragement of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Madison chambers have been purchased for use in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Colorado, Wisconsin, and California, as well as India, Northern Ireland, and New Zealand. More of the suspect chambers may be in use; but the legal counsel of the University of Wisconsin at Madison has refused to answer questions and has been reluctant to promptly answer requests filed under Wisconsin open records law.

The Chamber: The Madison aerosol chamber is a specialized type of lab equipment. The chamber is used to infect animals with disease through their lungs. Cultures of organisms causing tuberculosis or the bioweapons agents anthrax, Q fever, or brucella and others are placed in a part of the device called a nebulizer, which mixes the agents with air. The resulting aerosol is directed into a metal chamber in which animals have been placed on racks. The animals then breathe in the agent. The integrity of the complicated device's "O rings", seals, and other fittings is critical to preventing the aerosols from escaping the chamber and causing accidental infections. But the Madison chamber in Seattle, Washington leaks badly, and in 2004 it caused three laboratory-acquired tuberculosis infections at a BSL-3 lab shared by Corixa Corporation and the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IRDI).

"Foolproof": In late 2003, the Seattle lab began using a Madison aerosol chamber to infect guinea pigs with tuberculosis. Several batches were exposed over a period of months. By March 2004, a serious problem was detected when three employees, who previously tested negative for tuberculosis, came back with positive tests, or "conversions", indicating that they had been exposed to the agent.

The State of Washington opened an investigation. The State's report was obtained by the Sunshine Project and is available at our website. According to the report, in 2003 the IDRI team was trained to use the chamber by its inventor, a professor at Texas A&M University. IDRI was also trained by representatives of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. According to the State of Washington's investigation, Dr. David McMurray, the inventor and a tuberculosis researcher, made audacious safety claims about the chamber. The report says that McMurray claimed that "the chamber was so safe that there was no need to even locate it in a BSL-3 environment", that it was "foolproof", and that "respirator use was not necessary".

The Leaks: Interviews with IDRI staff by state investigators revealed that a leaky airflow meter was probably responsible for the infections. The investigation also revealed that IDRI staff had repeatedly encountered other dangerous problems. The chamber operator told state investigators "the Chamber seals deteriorate quickly, crack and last about a month" and in June 2004, well after the first problems were thought to be fixed, "another big leak was recently found." Another researcher said "several seals of the Chamber were found to be cracked". IDRI does not conduct biodefense research.

Leak Replicated, No Apparent Safety Advisory: The airflow meter also leaked in tests of a Madison chamber located in Fort Collins, Colorado. Although the University of Wisconsin at Madison was contacted by the State of Washington in the course of the investigation, two Madison aerosol chamber customers contacted by the Sunshine Project say that they have not received any safety advisories. Nor has the chamber's manual been changed in response to the State's findings. The current manual, obtained by the Sunshine Project under Wisconsin open records law, is dated 22 April 2002.

Biodefense Use: Many Madison chambers are used for tuberculosis studies; but others are used for biodefense. In December 2003, the Madison chamber was presented at a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) biodefense workshop. Biodefense use includes: At Texas A&M University, scientists are using it to aerosolize brucella and Q fever. At the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, it is used by an anthrax researcher funded by the Department of Defense and NIAID. With NIAID encouragement, other biodefense projects using the Madison chamber are likely planned or even underway.

Known Madison Aerosol Chambers and Locations*
University of California San Francisco, CA
Corixa / Colorado State Univ. Fort Collins, CO
Yale University New Haven, CT
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, NC
University of Georgia Athens, GA
Harvard University Cambridge, MA (possibly 2 chambers)
Corixa / IDRI Seattle, WA
HHMI / Albert Einstein Univ. Bronx, NY
Rockefeller University New York, NY
University of Texas HSC San Antonio, TX
Univ. of Texas Medical Branch Galveston, TX
University of Texas HSC Tyler, TX
Texas A&M University College Station, TX (possibly 2 chambers)
University of Wisconsin Madison, WI (presumed)
Queens University Belfast, N. Ireland
Astra Zeneca Bangalore, India
AgResearch Wallaceville Upper Hutt, New Zealand
*Some chambers may not yet be delivered. Source: Open Records requests to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and "Pulmonary Delivery of Mycobacteria and Other Respiratory Pathogens to Small Animals in a Specially-Designed Aerosol Chamber", presentation to the NIAID Workshop "Aerosol Challenge Technology and Applications in Biodefense", Bethesda, 3 December 2003, URL:

Conclusions: The Sunshine Project has been calling attention to the safety and security dangers of the US biodefense program since 2000. This case underscores how the 'precise, clean and neat' public image of BSL-3 and BSL-4 facilities that is promoted by NIAID and labs is frequently at odds with messy and risky realities.

According to the Sunshine Project's Edward Hammond, "It should not fall to a small non-profit to reveal incidents such as this one. In this case, the institutions involved apparently didn't even inform their peers about the problems. Public safety and an informed debate about the biodefense program require the government to mandate public disclosure of all significant lab accidents. This may be more cold water on overheated biodefense safety claims; but we frankly wonder how many more serious problems have been kept out of the public eye."

The United States does not have comprehensive laboratory safety law. The Madison chamber failure and consequent lab-acquired infections are yet more evidence of the urgent need for binding laboratory biosafety law, backed by enforceable international standards.
"Dr. Spencer Wells, a population geneticist at the [National Geographic] society who is leading the program, said he hoped to head off charges of exploitation by offering money to the tribes for education and cultural preservation." - New York Times on HGDP: Reloaded, 13 April 2005
Distributed via the Sunshine
Project Announcements List

Monday, April 11, 2005

How Many BL-3's Have Ye?

In newspaper articles and public forums UW representatives have stated that the UW has approximately 30 BSL-3 labs on campus. At the February 23rd public forum John Coulter clarified that it had 29 operational and one being renovated.

On 01/24/05 I'd requested via the UW Office of Open Records "documents that identify the number and owning/controlling department of BSL-3 labs"

UW Environmental Health and Safety sent this:

Why the discrepency? How many BSL-3's do you have UW?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Northeast District Council Letter to UW President Mark Emmert

Northeast District Council
4534 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
(206) 233-3732


Belvedere Terrace Community Council
Greater University Chamber of Commerce
Hawthorne Hills Community Council
Inverness Community Club
Inverness Park Homeowners Association
Laurelhurst Community Club
Montlake Community Club
Portage Bay/Roanoke Park Community Council
Ravenna Bryant Community Association
Ravenna Springs Community Group
Roosevelt Chamber of Commerce
Roosevelt Neighborhood Association
Roosevelt Neighbors’ Alliance
University District Community Council
University Park Community Club
View Ridge Community Council
Wedgwood Community Council
Windermere Corporation
Windermere North Community Association

April 8, 2005

Mark A. Emmert
President, Office of the President
301 Gerberding Hall
Box 351230
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington 98195-1230

RE: Proposal for BioLab on UW Campus

Dear President Emmert,

We are writing on behalf of the Northeast District Council, a group that represents over 20 Seattle neighborhood groups, to offer our comments on the proposed Regional Biocontainment Laboratory now under consideration.

While we strongly support much of the vital research that goes on at the University of Washington, the proposed RBL raises too many concerns for us to support siting this facility on the UW Campus.

Security and Safety. The security of such a facility raises concerns. The proposed location is adjacent to three public streets and is readily accessible to the public. The UW has already experienced eco-terrorist attacks, and this facility would present both a high profile and a high-risk target. In addition, there have been a number of accidents at other laboratories nationwide that highlight the very real risks of human error, most notably the tularemia release at a Boston University lab, the incidence of anthrax samples found outside of a Fort Detrick lab and the cross-country shipment and exposure to live anthrax in Oakland last year. It also bears mentioning that the anthrax used in the 2001 terrorist attacks almost certainly came from a U.S. facility.

Location. In addition, the proposed site is located in a shoreline management zone, within 200 feet of Portage Bay, which raises concerns about the potential effect on local waters and questions about the appropriateness of the facility given land use and design considerations.

Transparency and Public Disclosure. The fact that this facility is part of a national biodefense program that focuses on "select agents" that can be used in a possible bioterror attack creates another set of concerns. The first is the question of transparency – particularly since research on select agents is sometimes classified or proprietary. There will likely be little or no public notification in the event of thefts or accidents. The lack of transparency and the disregard for established procedures in the initial site selection process have been noted elsewhere. Note that over 70 pages of the UW’s application to the NIH were redacted for security reasons, an unusual procedure for an academic institution.

Biodefense research encompasses far more than simply generating vaccines for infectious disease. Select agent research requires the presence of pathogens that are likely to be used in bioterrorism attacks, and research on vaccines for "defense" does in fact have offensive potential. As David Ozonoff, Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University stated in testimony re the proposed NBL at BU, "In other words, no terrorist can use agents that have yet to be created, but the very act of protecting ourselves from these non-existent organisms will likely bring them into existence. That is when the danger moves from theoretical to real."

Control. In addition, the U of W, in the Cooperative Agreement Terms and Conditions of Award specified by the RFA, would effectively cede ultimate control over use of the RBL facility to the National Institutes of Health under the Regional Centers of Excellence biodefense program. The language specifically states that "Awardees agree to participate in projects identified by the NIAID Biodefense Network that include common research interests and address a specific biodefense problem or threat" and "The NIAID Biodefense Network will provide overall scientific coordination of the RBL Program." Even worse, the UW would cede this control over what occurs in the RBL facility for a period of 20 years under the agreement.

Although this is to be an RBL [BSL-3] rather than an NBL [BSL-4] facility, there remain unaddressed concerns that the level of containment required for a given pathogen can be redefined. This has already occurred in the UW project to study the 1918 influenza virus, when the level of containment required was reduced by the UW Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) to BSL-3 from the more stringent original standard of BSL-3ag. Which leads to a further concern.

Oversight. There is a potential conflict of interest between the roles researchers have in overseeing their own activities. The analogy is a fox guarding the henhouse, and we would like to propose an alternative to the current practice wherein the UW IBC, made up predominantly of researchers, provides sole local biosafety oversight. UC-Davis announced plans in 2003 to form a community liaison committee, modeled after an independent review committee in Winnipeg, whether or not it proceeded with its NBL proposal. An alternative is the successful model of the Cambridge Biosafety Committee, which oversees biosafety work at Harvard, MIT and private laboratories as part of the Cambridge public health system and has done so for the past three decades.

The existence of thirty BSL-3 labs on campus now and six more at other nearby Seattle institutions came as news to the community. We note that contrary to the impression given initially, the proposed facility is not expected by the Med School to result in the closure of any BSL-2 or BSL-3 labs at UW.

Resources. The general question of the use of federal resources for the biodefense program has been raised at the national level recently. More than 750 scientists, including 17 from the UW, sent a letter in March to the director of NIH stating, "The diversion of research funds from projects of high public-health importance to projects of high biodefense but low public-health importance represents a misdirection of NIH priorities and a crisis for NIH-supported microbiological research."

This particular proposal also impacts local resources. To be eligible for the $25 million federal grant, the UW has already committed $8.3 million in university matching funds, and is seeking an additional $32 million to meet the grant requirements. Allocation of these funds competes with other state and University needs.

In summary, we oppose the siting of this facility on the UW Campus. We urge you to consider the communities surrounding the University of Washington as you make your decision whether and how to proceed. We hope you will decide not to pursue the current proposal to locate an RBL on the campus.


Matthew Fox, Co-Chair
1407 1/2 NE 56th
Seattle, WA 98105

Lynn Ferguson, Co-Chair
6422 NE 60th Street
Seattle, WA 98115

cc: UW Board of Regents, Center for Scientific Review, National Institutes of Health; John Bogdan, Division of Extramural Activities, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Mayor Greg Nickels, Seattle City Council, Senator Patty Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, Governor Christine Gregoire

Friday, April 08, 2005

International Campaign to Stop Smallpox Genetic Engineering

Press Release
The Sunshine Project
Third World Network

This text is also available in:

International Campaign to Stop Smallpox Genetic Engineering Announced

Non-Governmental Organizations Urge the World Health Organization to Put Smallpox in the History Books Instead of the Genetic Engineering Lab

(4 April 2005) - An international alliance of non-governmental organizations has launched a campaign to urge the World Health Organization to reject a proposal that would permit the genetic engineering of smallpox and to instead ensure that all remaining stocks of the virus are destroyed within two years. Debate on the proposal will take place at the World Health Assembly (WHA), which meets in Geneva, Switzerland beginning on May 16th.

The NGOs, led by Third World Network and The Sunshine Project, have opened a website,, where organizations and individuals can send letters to the WHO Director General. The website provides links to health ministries, so that people can also contact their government's representatives to the WHA. The website is available in Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

The proposal to genetically engineer smallpox, which would also permit smallpox genes to be inserted into related poxviruses and the unlimited distribution of small segments of smallpox DNA, poses a large number of public health, biosafety, and biological weapons risks. It was prompted by the United States, and has been recommended to the WHA through an imbalanced advisory committee. A Briefing Paper (The Genetic Engineering of Smallpox: WHO's Retreat from the Eradication of Smallpox Virus and Why it Should be Stopped) at the website explains the political process that led to the proposal, the risks, and why it should be rejected. An edited excerpt from the paper that provides more background is appended to this news release.

Between now and the May opening of the WHA, the NGOs will be seeking to mobilize a wide variety of non-governmental organization and citizens. They will contact all member governments of WHO and urge them to reject the committee's recommendations and to instead:

* Prohibit the genetic engineering of smallpox, the insertion of smallpox genes in other poxviruses, and any further distribution of smallpox genetic material for non-diagnostic purposes;

* Set a firm and irrevocable date, within two years, for the destruction of all remaining stocks of smallpox virus (including viral chimeras, or hybrids with other poxviruses);

* In the interim before destruction, ensure that the WHO Advisory Committee on Variola Virus Research and its advisors are regionally balanced and that the Committee and its subsidiary groups conduct their oversight activities in a fully transparent and accountable manner.

Interested organizations and people are urged to visit to learn more about this issue and to send a letter to the WHO Director General.


The Sunshine Project
Austin, Texas US
Tel: +1 512 494 0545
GMT -6

Third World Network
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: + 603-2300 2585
GMT +7



The World Health Organization (WHO) is justly proud of the global effort that brought about the eradication of smallpox in 1977; but the truth of the matter is that the job was never finished. The United States and Russia still retain stocks of the smallpox virus (Variola major), an easily transmitted disease and ancient scourge of humanity that is a potent biological weapons agent. Smallpox kills one quarter or more of the people it infects and leaves many that do not die disfigured and blind.

In 1999, the remaining stocks of smallpox virus were slated for imminent destruction. But Russia and the US balked at the World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution calling upon them to destroy the virus. Instead, the US has accelerated smallpox research. Now, it wants open the Pandora's Box of genetically-engineered smallpox. A plan to genetically engineer the virus could be approved by the World Health Assembly in May 2005. The plan also includes the expression of smallpox genes in related poxviruses, and unlimited distribution of segments of smallpox DNA. If implemented, this plan would pose serious biosafety risks and open the road to an artificial reconstruction of the virus for biowarfare purposes.

Fewer and fewer people, and their leaders, have personal memories of the horror of smallpox, or even the scars left by vaccination, which had ended in most countries by the late 1970s. As if the world is condemned to repeat history through forgetfulness, WHO has now lost the political will that it once had to finish the job of smallpox eradication. Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of WHO's decision to leave oversight of smallpox research in the hands of an unbalanced and highly politicized "technical" advisory committee that is dominated by a small number of countries and scientists with a personal interest in pursuing smallpox research. It was US pressure that rammed the proposal for genetically-engineered smallpox through that committee, and now the World Health Assembly is in an inglorious position of being on the verge of endorsing what may prove to be the undoing of one its own greatest achievements.

Civil society and like-minded governments must urgently come together to turn the tide. The creation of genetically-engineered smallpox and hybrids of smallpox and other viruses (called chimera) pose serious public health, biosafety, and biological weapons dangers to the entire world. With increased smallpox experimentation, the world stands closer to the accident or deliberate act that would cause a release of the virus.

Because many poxviruses are closely-related to each other and, in their natural state frequently not entirely species-specific, the insertion of smallpox genes in related viruses has the potential to create dangerous new human (and animal) pathogens. Through genetic engineering or targeted mutations, labs that receive pieces of the smallpox genome may develop the ability to create smallpox or a novel virus with its characteristics without ever receiving an actual sample of Variola major. Moreover, laboratory safety practices and technology cannot erase human error and equipment failures that lead to accidents, as evidenced by a recent string of lab-acquired infections and environmental releases of SARS, Ebola, tularemia, and other dangerous diseases. In fact, the last reported human cases of smallpox were laboratory-acquired (see page 3 of the Briefing Paper - The Genetic Engineering of Smallpox: WHO's Retreat from the Eradication of Smallpox Virus and Why it Should be Stopped).

Contained to only two labs in Russia and the US, smallpox has a unique multilateral research oversight structure that has no parallel with any other disease. Because of the unique situation of smallpox research, if WHO approves these experiments it will not only increase the threat posed by smallpox itself. WHO will also broadcast the signal that it is internationally acceptable to have genetic engineering of other germs, including experiments in which new and more dangerous forms may result - or even be intended.
If endorsed by the WHA, the intergovernmental encouragement of the creation of designer disease will come at a particularly dangerous time. Globally, the number of high containment facilities handling dangerous disease agents is expanding and the hazardous applications of biotechnology increasing. This is reflected in a growing number of lab accidents in a variety of countries in recent years involving highly pathogenic agents in high containment facilities. Particularly in the US, the scope and quantity of research on biological weapons agents is growing, and now exceeds the cost of the effort that created the atomic bomb (the Manhattan Project), adjusted for inflation.

Individuals and civil society organizations should take action and voice their opposition to WHO and their national public health authorities, urging them to reject the recommendations of the committee and to instead ensure prompt destruction of all remaining virus stocks. This briefing provides a political overview of smallpox eradication, the WHO processes that led to the present state of affairs, and related issues of biosafety and prohibitions on biological weapons.

Distributed via the Sunshine Project Announcements List

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Pathology of Government-Funded Research

This article was sent to me today and well worth a read. Mike

The Pathology of Government-Funded Research
U.W.'s Biocontainment Lab: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You!

copyleft April 2005by Zbignew Zingh

The University of Washington, whose main campus lies near the heart of Seattle, wants to accept bushels of federal grant money to construct a large Level 3 biocontainment laboratory near the banks of Portage Bay.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the U.W. neglected to tell any of the local people what it planned to build in their backyard, nor did the University bother to tell its own faculty senate what it was planning.

A Level 3 biocontainment laboratory is a euphemism for a bio-terrorism R&D center. The facility - to be built adjacent to the University of Washington Medical Center at a cost of $50 million or more would research the development of immunizations and cures for microorganisms that cause the likes of bird flu, anthrax, tularemia, meliodosis and bubonic plague. Of course, there have been no such known local outbreaks in recent memory, but there could be in the future, argues the University. Lethal as these exotic diseases may be, the University has assured everyone that no Level 4 research would be done on campus on still more noxious pathogens like Ebola or Marburg which can have mortality rates as high as 100%... at least not right now, and certainly not that anyone would ever tell you about it if they did do Level 4 bio-terror research on campus.

It is understandable why the University of Washington wants to build a dedicated, state-of-the-art bio-terrorism laboratory. First, thanks to the national government's regressive tax policies and its reallocation of federal money from the public sector to the Perpetual War on Terrorism and the Force-Feeding of American Style Democracy, all states and local governments everywhere have lost the financial subsidies that allowed them to (at best) marginally fund public education. The U.W., like all state education, has been deliberately starved of resources to the point where it wil l take grant money where it can find it. Second, the medical school wants to maintain its “edge” as an eminent research institution, even if that means crawling into bed with proxies for Homeland Security and the military's weapons developers. Third, the University apparently has an incurable institutional penchant for poking itself in the eye by doing incredibly dumb things (such as ruining its athletic programs), also for the sake of prestige, reputation and money.

Once the laboratory cat was out of the bag, the U.W. finally was forced to meet with the public and explain itself. In the two meetings held so far, its explanations have won very few neighbors over to the University's proposal.

The opposition to the U.W.'s bio-terror project falls into three general categories. One category comprises those who believe that we really do need to protect ourselves from terror-mongering Bad People who will try to infect our sons and daughter s with lethal doses of God Knows What. However, this group prefers that the laboratory be constructed somewhere else other than right next door to where so many people live and work. A second group of opponents believes that the construction of a large and consolidated biocontainment lab is inherently unsafe, that it could accidentally discharge toxic microorganisms into an urban petri dish ideally suited for the propagation of deadly epidemics, and that the biocontainment lab would become a magnet for terrorist attack. The third category of laboratory opponents simply oppose it on principle, and because they consider both the University and its federal benefactors to be dishonest and dissembling about their intentions.

The University, for its part, has explained its support for the proposed project. It contends, in sum, that:
1.The threat of bio-terrorism is real and someone needs to research the counter-terrorism measures;
2.The University needs to conduct bleeding edge research in order to retain cutting edge faculty and a cutting edge reputation;
3.The Level 3 biocontainment laboratory will be as safe and secure as modern technology can make it;
4.Neither the military nor the Department of Homeland security will be funding this project; and
5.There are already many bio-terror labs on campus and in the Northwest, so one more will not hurt anything.

None of these arguments advance the University's case.

The Threat of Bio-terrorism. Maybe it is real and maybe it is not. However, the only known uses of biological warfare throughout history have been state-sponsored. Whether it was the catapulting of plague-infested cadavers into medieval cities under siege, or the 18th Century British distribution of small pox infected blankets to the indigenous tribes of North America, or Japanese human experimentation on Chinese POWS during the Second World War, there has always been a “government” behind the use and research of biological weapons. Too often, even in American medicine's checkered past, it was state-sponsored medical research that sacrificed Black Americans to syphilis, tested bacteria aerosols on the citizens of San Francisco and subjected unwitting soldiers and sailors to nuclear radioactivity testing, all in the name of medical research and science.

Moreover, the anthrax attacks of September 11, 2001 – ah, yes, those still unsolved and rarely mentioned anthrax attacks - that anthrax was an incredibly sophisticated, highly weaponized “Ames” strain of anthrax that most probably was developed in an American Army weapons laboratory. All of which leads one to question who was the terrorist behind the anthrax attacks of 2001 or, at least, to wonder how secure a Level 3 laboratory could be if not even the U.S. Army could keep its toxic little laboratory pets on the leash.

The University Needs to Conduct Bleeding Edge Research. This is a specious argument. There are a lot of medical issues that cry out for urgent scientific study but that do not require the University to sell its soul to Mephistopheles. If the University wants to do cutting edge scie nce for science's sake, then let it research cures for the myriad of congenital, autoimmune and neurological disorders that strike all people everywhere.

Scientists and medical researchers cannot conduct military related work as detachedly as though they are playing with Tinker Toys. The argument that the U.W. needs to conduct leading edge bio-terror research in order to maintain its academic edge is as bankrupt as the argument that it needs to develop thermonuclear weapons in order to attract the best nuclear physicists. Just as all who develop the underlying technology of war bear responsibility with war's perpetrators for the misery they unleash, so, too, must the U.W. accept responsibility for the weaponized technologies that its biocontainment research would inevitably produce.

The Biocontainment Laboratory Will Be Safe. Bio-research laboratories of all levels around the country – including Level 4 – have suffered security and containment breaches in the past, and they certainly will suffer them in the future. There is no technology that humankind cannot screw up, and there is no computer technology that does not occasionally malfunction due to a software glitch, an electrocuted insect, a hack, or a ten cent piece of hardware failure. Anyone who feels secure in the hands of modern technology obviously has not used a personal computer.

Moreover, as some have already pointed out in public forums, the U.W.'s research at its biocontainment laboratory will be secret. No one will know what they are really up to there and the public will never be told if, accidentally or otherwise, they leak some fast-replicating bio-agent into the neighborhood ecosystem.

Additionally, the University's bio-terror laboratory will first have to create the weaponized pathogens they want to immunize us against, which means, in essence, that the U.W. wil l be developing bio-weapons of extreme potency in order to create the counter-measures to them. The University's researchers will develop their “test pathogens” through genetic engineering of existing bacteria and viruses, which is as smart as creating dozens of fast-breeding microbial Frankensteins in order to test whether they can kill them after all.

Neither the Military Nor Homeland Security Is Funding This Research. This argument is false. All research now serves the interest of the military, directly or indirectly. Except for the rare instances of individual initiative, all big science projects (including everything now associated with NASA) are nurtured by what Dwight Eisenhower accurately described in the 1950s as the military-industrial complex. Science has been in the service of war all the way back to Archimedes. The name of the ostensible funding source for scientific/medical research is irre levant in an age when all government institutions are interlocked and serve the Administration's same über-goal of preemptive military aggression. It is an unfortunate fact that most scientists and engineers graduated by American universities will end up employed either directly or indirectly by the military or its contractors. That is no justification, however, for building one more military related research facility at a publicly owned state university.

Even if the work of the proposed bio-terror research laboratory is purely defensive, then it is as much a military provocation as the development of a national anti-ballistic missile shield. That which would protect Americans alone against a bio-military threat will make other peoples more vulnerable to that same threat from America, wherefore they will work all the harder to overcome our defenses. Thus, the U.W.'s biocontainment laboratory would 'contain' nothing but, ra ther, would increase the very risk it would purportedly protect us from. In short, there is no such thing as a defensive weapons research program, for the strong defense serves the interest of a strong offense.

One More Bio-research Laboratory Won't Matter. There are already many biocontainment research facilities scattered around Seattle. Nevertheless, that does not mean we should have one more. In fact, let us scrutinize each of the existing laboratories as closely as we scrutinize the proposed project, and then let us shut them all down, if that is the reasonable thing to do.

Ultimately, it does not matter whether Seattle's opposition to the U.W.'s biocontainment adventure is based on fear, intellect or real-estate-value nimbyism. All serve the same purpose of trying to stop an ill-conceived and dangerous project in its tracks.

Although the state's senators and business leaders certainly have a lready given their back-door blessing to this endeavor, it is appropriate to let them know that they may pay a social, academic, political and economic price if they try to ram something down the communities' throats that the communities do not want. That price could be paid in the withdrawal of endowment support from the University, in the tarnished PR image caused by civil disobedience when the bulldozers start to break ground, and in the withdrawal of financial and ballot support for certain candidates who run roughshod over local interests. In an age of squeaker elections when even the Governor's election hangs on handfuls of disputed votes, the electorate can parlay that uncertainty into a demand that its wishes be respected.

Back in Washington D.C., the Administration that doles out the political pork must be laughing out loud. Washington State, which did not vote for those who hold power, and specifically Seattle (which politically i nclines more toward Canada than toward Texas), would seem to be the most illogical place to site a bio-terrorism laboratory on this scale. But in the demonic mind of those who know how to pay back political heterodoxy with political terrorism of their own, there is nothing more suitable than that biological warfare research should be conducted right smack in the “lefty” city that wants it least.

The next public meeting on the proposed biocontainment laboratory will be held on campus of the University of Washington in Seattle, Room 310 of the HUB, Monday April 11, 2005 from 4:00 – 6:00 pm.