Plans for pathogen lab announced

MAY 27–HELENA, Mont.–Federal health officials have released a detailed look at a proposed biological lab, designed to house the most deadly pathogens known, currently slated for Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton.

The study also announced that building the controversial lab one of only a handful in the nation was the preference of the National Institutes of Health, which ultimately oversees the Hamilton facility.

The document released Friday, May 24 was a draft study examining the environmental implications of the facility, which would be only the fifth such lab in the United States. The study looked at only two alternatives: building a new, $66.5 million, 105,000-square-foot building to house the specialized laboratory, along with rooms for animals used in experiments and other labs, or doing nothing at all and leaving the lab as it is.

The most controversial aspect of the expansion is the proposed Biosafety Level 4 (BL-4) laboratory. Such labs are specifically to handle organisms that cause deadly diseases for which there is no cure, especially diseases spread through the air, like the mysterious ebola virus.

The possibility of a new BL-4 sparked controversy both in Hamilton, where residents worried about their own safety, and throughout the nation. The Hamilton BL-4 is among several other proposed new labs which, if completed, would double the U.S. capacity to work on such deadly organisms.

It is also associated with a new push toward protecting the United States from biological attack by investigating pathogens that could be used as biological weapons.


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