New book reviews bioterrorism lab campaign

May 12, 2008

An article in a new book features the campaign against the Boston University Bioterrorism Lab as a case-study for building power in neighborhoods of color. The anthology, titled Acting Civically: From Urban Neighborhoods to Higher Education, is a compilation of essays by various Boston-area scholars and academics on the theme of how to create positive, sustainable change in American communities.

Acting Civically book

The authors of the chapter on ACE, Julian Agyeman and Heather Ross, describe the efforts of Boston University Medical Center to construct a Bio-safety Level Four Laboratory situated along the border of Roxbury and the South End, urban communities with a substantial lower-income, immigrant and people of color population.

Agyeman and Ross offer tough criticisms of the project, questioning the economic gains for the communities as well as the widely perceived notion that the Lab, funded in part by the Bush administration through Homeland Security initiatives, would make Americans safer in the case of biological attacks. Because biotechnology has become such a corporate, market-driven industry, the authors ask whether “in the time of a terrorist attack or similar disaster, will the companies that invest in manufacturing the vaccine or treatment ask a high-price? What will happen to those who cannot pay or who do not receive health care?”

The essay goes on to examine the role of community partners in the Campaign to Stop the Bioterror Lab, describing the crucial process of building a citywide coalition in order to cultivate “a more democratic process in the developments of this facility.” The article notes the importance of framing the issue in the “rhetoric of unimaginable risks,” recruiting outside professors and experts to legitimate community apprehensions, and expanding outreach and awareness of the Lab in Roxbury community and outside of the South End.


Julian Agyeman is an associate professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University. Heather Ross is a former legislative outreach coordinator for ACE. Acting Civically: From Urban Neighborhoods to Higher Education is edited by Tufts professors Susan Ostrander and Kent Portney and is available online from Tufts University Press.