Neighbors nervous over plans for infectious disease lab

Published: Jul. 9, 2012 at 9:39 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 10, 2012 at 7:46 AM HST
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KALAELOA (HawaiiNewsNow) - SARS, antibiotic-resident tuberculosis, dengue fever and other infectious diseases could someday be diagnosed in a laboratory the UH wants to build.

John A. Burns School of Medicine Dean Jerris Hedges said when a disease hits Asia, the possibility exists for travelers to carry it to Hawaii, making a biosafety lab a necessity.

"We need to be able to rapidly determine if the illness that an individual is suffering from could be a larger problem and we need to initiate either special treatments or quarantine treatment," he said.

Pacific Health Research Laboratory would be a much larger version of the biosafety lab at the UH School of Medicine. It would sit on a two-acre plot in Kalaeloa.  The site is currently a parking lot within the Hawaii Army Reserve National Guard's compound.

Kapolei-Makakilo neighborhood board member Evelyn Souza worries about its proximity to people.

"When I see an aerial shot and I see my grandchildren's backyard in it, I have major concerns," she said.

The lab would be part of a national network of laboratories that protect America against biological threats. Hedges insists it would be safe.

"The level of involvement in terms of keeping the operation safe is phenomenal," he said.

UH is working on a draft environmental impact statement for the lab, and safeguards.

"I want to know risk assessment," Souza said. "I want to know it before you even contemplate putting a footprint there."

"We're introducing a safe environment for the scientist who's looking at these agents," Hedges said.

A $32 million grant and $15 million in state and UH funds would pay for the biosafety lab. UH hopes to have it ready in 2016.

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