Could Berkeley Lab Bring Health Risks?

by jeeg 16. August 2011 21:20

While issues relating to job creation and environmental impacts of building have dominated the debates around proposed lab sites for the much discussed LBNL lab expansion, scrutiny around the type of research actually to be conducted at the lab has been minimal at best.

I am very concerned that this issue isn't being raised (let alone addressed) because there are serious public and environmental health and safety threats arising from the synthetic biology research to be conducted at the new lab.

Research involving the synthesis of new kinds of synthetic DNA sequences can potentially transform a common microorganism into an infectious agent with dangerous and far reaching consequences. There are legitimate concerns that synthetic biology research, as the field continues to enter uncharted territory, will have serious and far reaching consequences if there is an accidental release in the lab.

We need to be very careful whenever novel, self-replicating organisms breach containment and are released into the environment.  Synthetic microorganisms could proliferate out of control and cause environmental damage and even impact human health; posing challenges to treatment and containment responses.

Boosters have heavily promoted the theoretical benefits of building their lab to Albany residents without being forthcoming in detailing the very real dangers posed by the type of research they plan on conducting, including broadly publicizing risk assessments and detailing safety plans.

Health and safety are being overlooked and citizens are being kept in the dark. Lab proponents bear the burden of proof that this lab will be safe. We must have a transparent and public investigation into these issues before any local community invites this facility to break ground. Self-regulation cannot be a substitute for real and accountable oversight.

Colin Hamilton, Albany Patch

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