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Cambridge Councilor Criticizes DNA Monitoring Committee

By Payne L. Templeton

Cambridge City Councilor David Clem yesterday criticized the Cambridge Biological Hazards Committee (BHC), appointed in May to oversee all recombinant DNA research in the city, for never having met.

"It is inexcusable that they have not met," Clem said. He added that City Manager James L. Sullivan told him in June that the committee would meet before or soon after Labor Day.

Sullivan could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Dr. Richard P. Defillippi, a BHC member, said yesterday the committee will meet within the next two weeks.

Clem said there are several important issues for the committee to consider because scientists at MIT have been performing recombinant DNA experiments since last spring. (Harvard scientists will not begin the controversial research until October, when a special p-3 containment facility on Divinity Ave. is scheduled to be completed.)

Defillippi said, "I imagine there's plenty for the committee to do."

After a lengthy controversy last year over whether the city should ban recombinant DNA research, the City Council in February followed the recommendations of a citizen's review board to allow the research to proceed under certain conditions--one of which was the creation of the BHC to monitor the research.

Clem said the BHC is "unfair to Cambridge citizens who believe the committee is meeting," and also inhibits scientists who want to cooperate with Cambridge laws.

Robert Healy, assistant to the City Manager, explained yesterday that one reason the BHC has not met is because of vacation conflicts during the summer. Clem acknowledged that summer vacations could have been a problem, but questioned why the five-member committee could not meet when the 15-member Health Policy Board held several meetings over the summer.

After Clem noted in a council meeting Monday night that the BHC had never met, Cambridge Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci threatened to propose a ban on all recombinant DNA research.

Vellucci said Monday night, "The fact that this committee has not yet met leads me to believe I was right in advocating a ban on all hazardous research in the first place."

Sullivan then promised the council he would see that the committee meet before the next council session Monday. Defillippi said yesterday, however, that the committee would probably not meet for one or two weeks.

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