Representatives of six Boston-area research institutions including the Medical School, yesterday sharply criticized a proposal on the November 2 state ballot which would curtail dumping of low-level radioactive wastes in Massachusetts.
In a press conference at MIT, Dr. S. James Adelstein, radiology professor at the Medical School, said that the passage of "Question 3" would hinder research in medical and scientific fields that rely on radioactive materials.
The radioactive materials, widely employed in medical and scientific research, are a major source of the low-level wastes which would be affected by the referendum. Other sources includes nuclear power plants and some types of industry.
Question 3, if passed, would require legislative study and a statewide referendum to approve construction of any new nuclear power plants or low-level radioactive waste disposal sites, and could make it difficult for researchers to find dumping grounds.
"Low-level radioactive materials have been the key substances producing the phenomenal recent a progress of biological research," said Nobel laureate Dr. David Baltimore, director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
"The isolation of genes responsible for cancers would have been impossible without the availability of radioactive chemicals," he added.
Yesterday's conference is part of a growing effort that has united medical researchers from around the state. "We're doing most of our work through professional organizations," said Jacob Shapiro radiological health and safety engineer at University Health Services.
Although the question has been on the ballot for some time, the scientific community only recently became aware of the referendum and moved to defeat it. "It swam into people's consciousness only about a month ago," said Parker L. Coddington, director of governmental relations for Harvard.
Scientists at the press conference said they fear that grouping the issue of low-level waste disposal with that of nuclear power will have a detrimental effect on their campaign. "They are two separate issues," said Dr. Francis E. Low, provost at MIT. "A 'no vote is not an endorsement of nuclear power."
Question 3 supporters yesterday denied that medical research would be adversely affected, citing a clause in the referendum that exempts medicine and bioresearch from the dumping restricting. "They're been said a bill of goods," said Albert M. Chordaso, Question 3 campaign manager. He added that research institutions might save money by using their own waste disposal sites.
But Dr. Robert Levy, dean of the Tufts School of Medicine, dismissed the exemption as "meaningless." "We would be forced to develop a disposal facility only for medicine and bioresearch which would be unreasonably expensive and unreasonably burdemone for the citizens of Massachusetts," he added