Saturday, June 28, 2008


Location, location, location: Three reasons why today’s Advertiser editorial made me laugh.

by Larry Geller

On Saturday mornings, after reading the serious stuff in the paper, my first opportunity for a laugh is David Shapiro’s flASHback blog, now in print. Next, the comic page, which, I’ll have to admit, is one of the main reasons I subscribe.

Today, though, the editorial was first in line to give me a chuckle. It’s about locating a high-containment laboratory stocked with deadly human pathogens amid the condos of Kakaako, a long-running controversy.

Let’s dissect it.

Headline: Kaka'ako biosafety lab has some key benefits.

Yes, these labs are called biosafety labs. This lab has also been described at a neighborhood board meeting as “a Level 3 Regional BioSafety Laboratory. Level 3 laboratories are used to study agents that may potentially cause lethal infection, but which may be transmitted through the air.” I just want everyone to know what the term “biosafety” implies in terms of, um, safety. Does this sound like anything you might choose to locate near condos and a recreation area?

Let’s go on.

Reading down, there’s this:

Above all, given Hawai'i's geographic isolation and proximity to Asia, the lab would better position us to diagnose and withstand an epidemic.

So we’re isolated and proximate. Good trick. Far but near. Hazardous but safe. You just have to believe.

As voiced by many, including originally by State Senator Gorden Trimble, the concern is the proposed location, not so much about having a lab in Hawaii.

Still, it's crucial that the concerns of residents and community leaders are addressed. While it's true that the new lab would be near a rapidly growing urban area of homes and businesses, there's no reason it could not be a suitable neighbor.

Funny!! “it’s crucial that the concerns of residents and community leaders are addressed??” The editorial advocates ignoring those concerns. Watch the logic twist and dance.

Similar labs are in far more densely populated areas, including Washington, D.C., downtown Atlanta and Boston.

The facility must meet stringent federal and state safety standards.

Now, we all know how stringent federal safety standards have become. One could worry especially if they allow similar labs in densely populated areas of Washington, Atlanta and Boston. Do they also have standards for locating labs in an area that could be subject in the future to tsunamis? Imagine those little pathogens swimming freely in the surf around Honolulu.

For the project to thrive — as it should — an unwavering commitment to take no shortcuts and put public safety first is needed from the get-go.

This is the punch line. If public safety is first, then the lab should be located elsewhere, and we should take no shortcuts, like putting it next to the medical school in Kakaako. Will public safety suffer if a lab is located in a safer location, one away from dense housing and proximity to the water?

High-containment labs are difficult and expensive to maintain, as was revealed in the UK  in 2007 when foot and mouth disease escaped a supposedly secure facility and infected eight nearby farms. You have to ask about the wisdom of locating that laboratory in the prime farmland of Pirbright, Surrey. Of course, it was expeditious to put it right next to the Institute for Animal Health.

Sounds similar to putting a risky lab full of human pathogens next to the medical school in residential Kakaako, doesn’t it?

Shouldn’t a lesson be learned and the mistake not be repeated?

Ok, on to the comics page. I like Frazz, it’s funny, literate and logical, all at the same time.


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