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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 24, 2006

Biosafety lab can be a good fit in Kaka'ako

Over the past several years, our awareness of the threat of biological hazards, whether "natural" or man-made, has increased substantially: from threats of anthrax terrorism to SARS and now, avian flu.

The federal government has responded with a flood of funds, through the National Institutes of Health, to build a nationwide network of regional biosafety laboratories.

One such lab is planned for Honolulu an obvious and strategic choice considering our isolation and proximity and vulnerability to potential threats from Asia and the Pacific.

The original plan to locate the lab at Waimano Ridge has stalled, in part because the infrastructure needed to support the lab will likely cost more and take longer than originally estimated.

In response, the University of Hawai'i has asked the NIH for permission to build the lab elsewhere, most likely at the new medical school in Kaka'ako.

There are clear advantages to this proposal: The land is ready for development; placing the lab near an existing medical school with its own laboratories already in operation is ideal; it would create natural teaching opportunities; and it could also contribute to the growing life sciences industry.

And officials say that even with other facilities, such as Phase II of the medical school and a proposed cancer center, there should be adequate room for the lab.

There are concerns: The lab, which is specifically designed with security and safety in mind, would be close to a tsunami-inundation zone. Can it be built to withstand tsunami or hurricane impacts?

And it would also be built in what is rapidly becoming an urban neighborhood of homes, shops and entertainment. While there is no reason it could not be a compatible neighbor, these issues must be considered at the beginning, not down the road when commitments have been made.

Hawai'i deserves and needs a laboratory of this caliber. If time and cost rule out Waimano Ridge, then Kaka'ako deserves consideration.