the biohazard lab

Columbia’s Plan: Biotech Hazard on the Hudson

Columbia University is proposing a biomedical research level-3 lab as a major component (30%) of its proposed development of Manhattanville.

Columbia's hazardous storage methods 1BLS-3 is the third highest level out of 4 safety levels. A BLS-3 designation is given to facilities in which work is done with agents which may cause serious or potentially lethal disease as a result of exposure by the inhalation route. Examples of these agents are: Typhoid Fever, West Nile Virus, Avian Flu, The Plague & Malaria.

Columbia University has a poor satety record. It was fined $792,029 in 2002 by the U.S. Environmental Protection agency for violations involving improper storage and disposal of toxic waste and faulty emergency plans. The photos on this page show Columbia facilities, as documented by the EPA in their investigation.

Things you should know about biomedical labs:

Containment – The procedures required are often so numerous and detailed that it’s difficult to keep track of them. The missed shower, the filter not changed on time, the miniscule tear in a bodysuit, the scientist with a paper cut who forgets to put on his gloves—each of these events could lead to disaster. Supporters of biomedical advances claim accidents are rare, but the frequency of such incidents is widely disputed in the scientific community.

Columbia's hazardous storage methods 2

No Equipment is Foolproof – Accidents don’t just result from human error. Generators malfunction, air pumps collapse and sometimes designs are faulty.

Transportation – All biological materials are delivered to the lab through regular mail (USPS, FED EX, UPS etc). Federal law prevents the carriers from knowing what’s in these packages.

Defense or Offence – It doesn’t matter. Both use the same substances and both create a potential target for internal or external sabotage.

Regulation – NO comprehensive federal reporting guidelines exist. In fact, the Homeland Security Act prohibits the public disclosure of any theft or loss of potential bioterrorism agents.

Columbia's hazardous storage methods 3Location – Columbia is planning to put at least one of its biotech labs in a factory building which would reach as many as 7 stories underground. Manhattanville is on an active fault line and in the NYC flood plain. What facility could possibly make this safe?

Population – There are over 1 million residents in a 3 mile radius of this proposed facility.

Violations – Columbia University has a poor safety record. It was fined $797,029 in 2002 by the EPA for violations involving storage and disposal of toxic waste and faulty emergency plans.

Why Does Columbia Want this Lab?

Follow The Money.

Biodefense – The flood of federal funding for bioterror-related research has shifted an entire field of scientific investigation. Columbia along with the New York State Department Of Health was awarded a yearly grant of $9 million per year to establish the Northeast Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases. The grants for these centers are nothing compared to the federal funding available for higher level projects. Columbia wants a new biotech lab in Manhattanville so that it can better compete in the race for the billions of Department of Defense funds. Patents – Even health-related biomedical research costs us money. Federal grants (our tax money) fund a large portion of research on drugs done by Columbia. Then, when those drugs hit the market, the public pays exorbitant prices in part to cover Columbia’s licensing fees on its patents. Income from biomedical patents is currently second only to endowments in financing University budgets. Monies from all patents developed in the proposed lab under the auspices of the University would go into Columbia’s coffers. Columbia’s Richard Axel patent has earned the University $600,000,000 (million, that’s right!) since 1991.

With this much money at stake, it becomes clear that a biotech center in Manhattanville is less an academic endeavor than the establishment of a business park in disguise.

Further reading on the hazards of these bio-tech facilities:

Expansion at Columbia Causes Biohazard FearsNY Resident Magazine. September 26, 2006.

On the Front Lines of the Virus War; Inside a Columbia Lab, Infectious Diseases Are All the Rage.The New York Times. October 31, 2003

Concern over spread of biodefense labsThe Christian Science Monitor. Septemer 25, 2003

Columbia’s record of environmental safety and pollution violations, and financial interests:

Columbia settles lawsuitMetro New York. August 18, 2006

Columbia University To Pay Pollution Penalty of $135KThe New York Sun. August 18, 2006

Columbia’s Pursuit Of Patent Riches Angers CompaniesThe Wall Street Journal. December 21, 2004.

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