Natick’s increasing attractiveness for bio labs has prompted the town’s Board of Health to craft and unanimously approve its first biological safety regulation, effective May 1.
Expect to see Chapter 30, approved on Tuesday night during a Board of Health meeting, to be added to the list of regulations on the town website (we’ve embedded a copy below). The Board has been revising its draft regulation based on discussion and public input, and discussed how it can update the regs as it learns from permitting of new labs.
Many communities in the area—including Wellesley—have been trying to learn from each other in developing regulations, so as not to start from scratch. Their rules are also complemented by federal and state regulations for labs.
Natick has had a vibrant lab industry since at least 2016 when ABI-LAB opened in the area behind Sherwood Plaza parallel to Rte. 9. But the proposed introduction of labs at Natick Mall in space formerly occupied by Neiman Marcus, adjacent to condos, and Lord & Taylor has raised concerns of residents who find the prospect of research labs in their neighborhood too close for comfort (they’ve lawyered up during the process). The issue has been the subject of more than a dozen Planning Board meetings over the past year, and the Board of Health has been fielding public comment at its recent meetings.
The town’s Economic Development Committee has been super enthusiastic about encouraging more research labs to open in Natick.
Natick’s regs will allow for only biosafety level 1 and 2 labs, (BSL-1 and BSL-2) the latter of which according to the Centers for Disease Control involves “microbes [that] pose moderate hazards to laboratorians and the environment.” So anthrax, no; E. coli or salmonella, maybe.
The Board will use its discretion regarding how close labs can be located to homes, and will rely on consultants’ opinions on a case by case basis. A citizen’s effort during Town Meeting to get approval for a motion to establish standard setbacks failed.
Director of Public Health Michael Boudreau, in describing the need for regulations by the town during the Jan. 10 Board meeting, said Natick is addressing the issue in a way in which “we don’t want to impede research and progress, but also we wanted to address the public health concerns that are out there. This is still somewhat of a new thing for Natick.”
If there is a lab incident that could affect public safety, be it through the air or water, Boudreau said the regulation gives the town the ability to order a lab do more testing or take other such actions.
Asked by a Board member about the Health Department staff’s ability to support the regulation, Boudreau said he could always use more staff. But the town would hire consultants that would be paid for by applicants, so that would enable the permitting and oversight process to work, he said.
More discussion with the Board will take place regarding permitting fees, Boudreau said.
With the regulation set to go into effect May 1, existing labs having 6 months from them to get permitted. In the meantime, the town will reach out to these businesses to discuss the new rules.
Want to see Board of Health meetings added to Natick Pegasus recordings? Let the Department of Health know: email@example.com