Only Guidelines Can Make Biolabs Safe

It’s been a longrunning debate whether Chinaballs was intentionally or accidentally released from the Wuhan lab. This astonishingly tone-deaf article by a credentialed expert suggests… BOTH!

We work with dangerous pathogens in a downtown Boston biocontainment lab – here’s why you can feel safe about our research

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By Ronald Corley, Director of the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, 14 July 2021

With a title like that, somebody is playing life on hard mode today! Especially since this article was surely prompted by that biocontainment lab incident in downtown Wuhan.

Microbiologist Ronald Corley has gone to work every day throughout the pandemic as director of the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories. Within this secure lab facility in Boston, scientists study pathogens as diverse as tuberculosis, Ebola virus, yellow fever virus and Zika virus.

Courageously risking his life for !science! from behind a desk at the top of the org chart.

A newly emerging or reemerging human pathogen is detected somewhere around the globe every 12 to 18 months.

Ohmigawd Coof is MUTATING!!!! just like every disease always does and always has.

Infectious diseases don’t respect borders. Because of the global economy and unprecedented mobility, everyone on the planet is vulnerable to potentially devastating infectious diseases that may have originated halfway across the world. In this age of high-speed travel, we are as little as 36 hours away from any outbreak.

Maybe we should close our borders, if only for the sake of medical quarantine? Especially with China and India, which are by far the most frequent sources of “newly emerging pathogens”? Maybe we should try avoiding diseases instead of learning all about them.

In the lab, researchers can safely test new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. The more scientists learn about these new diseases, the better prepared we are for the ones that will come after.

A better way to be prepared for an outbreak is to remove all women from positions of authority so they won’t freak out over the need to assume measured risks. Knowledge in the hands of government is like wisdom in the hands of a fool: a pretty thing to be flaunted but not used.

This is where labs like the NEIDL, and our stringent safety measures, are important. I feel safer from infection working in the NEIDL than I do in my apartment building.

That sounds like a roommate problem.

We know what we’re working with in the lab and how to keep ourselves and others safe. But outside, I don’t know who I might pass who could have a transmissible pathogen, including the coronavirus.

Definitely a roommate problem. Although I would hazard a guess, that he’d notice if the person next to him was hacking up tuberculosis or bleeding Ebola from the eyes.

This is not to say that there is no risk working within the laboratory – there is.


In California’s agricultural valleys, they have this concept of agricultural quarantine. Any disease that spreads to a new farm’s worth of livestock can do massive damage, so the farms are intentionally isolated, workers live on site and they go through cleaning regimens when they come back from vacation or supply runs.

Director Corley respects the health of his fellow humans less than a Mexican migrant respects the health of his chickens. But not to worry! Corley is CERTIFIED!

But we minimize it through a series of safety measures – including building systems, laboratory design, personal protective equipment, training and safety protocols – that have been tried and tested in laboratories across the world.

Except the safety measure of social distancing. Oopsie.

Our biosafety manual sets the standards for all work with biological material in the NEIDL….

Overview of biosafety rules omitted.

What does containment look like with these safety strategies in place?

Everyone undergoes annual background checks, medical clearances and training. Only cleared staff can enter the building alone.

None of that prevents the spread of disease. It doesn’t even prevent the spread of Chinese espionage.

There are limited ways into the space, one for pedestrians, and one for vehicles, like delivery trucks. Entry requires access via biometric or card access or both, and screening by security. Access controls limit staff members to entering spaces where they have permission to work, based on their training, clearances and biosafety protocols. A network of security systems and closed-circuit cameras monitors the facility.

Just like the Burger King across the street!

Entering laboratories requires that workers don the appropriate PPE for the area. Within the labs, we know what pathogen we are working with and how it is being used and are confident staff are following the safety measures required to keep them safe. This ensures the safety of others in the building as well as the surrounding community.

Importantly, the biosafety practices ensure that each pathogen we’re studying is restricted to the appropriate spaces. Researchers work at biosafety cabinets that sterile-filter the air before releasing it back into the lab.

Infrastructure is better than Burger King but none of it needs to be located in a dense urban center where a single failure can be catastrophic.

What kinds of regulation and oversight are there?

Synopsis of 574-page book of oversight regulations omitted.

What would happen if something went wrong?

An important aspect of safety is making sure everyone knows what to do in an emergency. Three trainings per year involve first responders from the city as well as from Boston University. These are done as either live drills or tabletop exercises with experts walking through what an emergency would look like. Afterward we review how we did and develop plans for improvement.

No, no, we aren’t talking about strokes or the Heimlich maneuver. We’re talking about you walking to work one morning and noticing that a rat on the sidewalk outside your lab is dead of hemorrhagic fever. What do you do? You file paperwork…?

At Boston University, we post all laboratory incidents, including those at the NEIDL, on a quarterly basis to ensure that we remain transparent in our activities. Depending on what went wrong, we may also report to the BPHC and the CDC.

That’s right. We can trust your biolab to operate inside a major city because you’ll tell everybody when you fuck up. Despite the obvious incentives to not tell everybody.

Look, when a plague escapes confinement in an urban center, there’s nothing that CAN be done. China was tyrannical enough to lock down entire cities and it didn’t help. But if your lab is physically isolated with a disciplined workforce then a lockdown can work.

Which brings us to the million-casualty question:

Why place these high-security labs in urban environments with lots of neighbors instead of the middle of nowhere?

Scientific research is a communal activity, and advances happen in places where diverse expertise is concentrated. It’s no different for research on emerging pathogens. Research on pathogens relies on faculty with expertise in not only the pathogens themselves but chemistry, engineering, stem cell biology, structural biology, immunology and more.

Biocontainment research also requires facilities engineers, safety professionals and security personnel. You can find personnel with diverse experience and expertise in metropolitan areas that are already home to biomedical research.

If they’re willing to come to USA all the way from Pajeet-istan to work in a biocontainment facility then they’re willing to travel twenty miles outside of urban centers and maybe live on campus, too. Behold, concentrated expertise!  And frankly, if they’re coming from Pajeet-istan then they need to go through medical quarantine regardless. It would be awkward yet convenient, if your sparkly new diversity hire brought the next plague into your city.

Science can’t happen unless a Chicomm plant, an African bioterrorist and a Yankee politician collaborate at a wine-tasting next door to the BSL-3 biolab.

The original permitting process of the NEIDL mandated a comprehensive risk assessment [that] concluded that it’s as safe, or even safer, to have such a facility in an urban environment than in a rural or suburban environment.

You just lied to America, Director. Come to think of it, telling the truth was never one of your guidelines. Their purpose, as you stated in this article, was to reassure people. Truth is often NOT reassuring… therefore not a guideline.

“Near misses” have occurred at these kinds of labs within the U.S. and Europe. A near miss might, for example, involve glove tears and a potential exposure to a pathogen during laboratory work, but these have never resulted in any community infections. At the NEIDL, we intend to maintain this track record.

QED. His real concern is his own reputation. Not safety. Just the perception of safety.

Everything that Director Corley said in this article indicates he’s the kind of bureaucrat who would do that, to wit, violate the principle of safety with the justification that he followed all the safety rules. 

That is why bureaucracy is evil. It offers a false morality, one that clumsy and careless humans can easily keep. It is good to follow safety procedures and better to know why those procedures exist. Not to protect your lab’s reputation; to protect the innocent. The principle says to house dangerous diseases where there are few people to be infected. But the rules don’t require it… so….

So long as Director Corley can’t be fired, it’s really not his problem if Bostonian Swine Flu becomes a thing. Thus, placing the biolab where it can function most cheaply (and importing diversity hires from around the globe) is worth the sacrifices that other people may have to make.

I tried to substantiate my suspicions of NEIDL being more concerned about the appearance of safety than actual safety. Guess who I found? Barbara “Doctor of Public Welfare” Ferrer, the health Nazi of Los Angeles.

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In a discussion whose outcome may determine if Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) will conduct research involving pathogens such as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, speakers for and against research at BioSafety Level 4 (BSL-4) faced off last night at a lengthy Boston City Council hearing on a proposed ordinance to ban that level of research in the city. The ordinance was put forth by Councilman Charles Yancey, who told the standing-room-only crowd that he feared that BSL-4 research could pose a serious risk to the health and safety of the community.

While Yancey and several opponents of BSL-4 research tried to persuade the city council to support the ban, proponents, including Barbara Ferrer (SPH’88), director of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), and M. Anita Barry director of the BPHC Infectious Diseases Bureau, argued that reliable safety precautions have been put in place. Representatives of the biotech industry also spoke in favor of BSL-4 research, maintaining that banning BSL-4 research would inhibit the growth of life sciences research in Boston.

Ronald Corley, NEIDL associate director and a BU School of Medicine professor and chair of microbiology, emphasized the promise of a research lab that can bring together expertise in many disciplines, such as chemistry, microbiology, and engineering.

“The great discoveries in science these days are coming from these kinds of multidisciplinary efforts,” he said. “The University’s mission is educating the next generation of scientists.” Corley said the mission of NEIDL is to develop vaccines, diagnoses, and therapeutics for emerging infectious diseases. “The NEIDL is not going to produce biological weapons, and it is not going to do classified research,” he said.

No gain-of-function research? This article is dated April 2014. It was October 2014 that the CDC outlawed GoF research after multiple biolab screwups, which was considered technically not bioweapon research. Probably just as well that NEIDL never went level-4.

Opponents of BSL-4 research at the hearing argued that safety studies of the lab conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were inadequate, and that NEIDL was constructed in “an environmental justice community” without sufficient dialogue with residents. …

Construction of the $200 million NEIDL facility was completed in September 2008, but controversy and litigation have kept much of the building’s 192,000 square feet of laboratory space closed.

So, they built the facility without asking the locals if they were comfortable living next to a biolab, then they tried to justify their fait accompli existence by claiming that their safety procedures guaranteed that nothing could go wrong.

I consider the point proven, that Director Corley is a bureaucrat with little concern for human life.

2 thoughts on “Only Guidelines Can Make Biolabs Safe

  1. Once you’re at that level of fame/responsibility it is damn hard not to want to poke the dragon, to do research on the cutting edge of science and legality. It feeds the ego and often the wallet. My father was an administrator at NIH for 30+ years, I know these kinds of people, met hundreds of them. There is nothing they would not do or support for the advancement of “science” and their careers. Corruption is polite and wears tailored suits.

    Liked by 1 person

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