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State court upholds nerve gas ban

By Julio Friedmann

The Massachusetts State Superior Court upheld a Cambridge regulation Feb. 26 that prohibits nerve gas research in Cambridge by Arthur D. Little, Inc.

The intent of the order is similar to a 1983 Cambridge referendum which proposed a ban on nuclear materials research. Both orders were planned to prohibit research which the city council believed would be harmful to citizens, science and industry.

Cambridge voters rejected the nuclear materials proposal.

The present court order will stop the operation of Little's Levins Laboratory Complex for Safe Handling of Toxic Materials, a new multi-million dollar chemical testing installation in Acorn Park.

John F. Magee, president and chief executive officer of Little, stated in a letter sent to the citizens of Cambridge Jan. 28 that the toxic chemicals being tested were "no more volatile than water" during transport and containment.

The letter also said that Levins Laboratory far exceeded safety standards established by the federal government. The letter stated that testing could not be done in isolation without moving most of the Little complex out of Cambridge, its international headquarters for 99 years.

The Cambridge City Council asked that Little move its nerve gas research from the city or end it because of the hazard presented to Cambridge residents.

The council felt that risks of accident or contamination outweighed the possibility that Little's research might lead to improved methods of removing contaminants from the environment.

Superior Court Judge Robert J. Hallisey said there was no concrete evidence that the research activities at Levins Laboratory threatened Cambridge's population or that the facility was unsafe.

Hallisey nonetheless supported the city's mandate, claiming that there will certainly be an appeal. He said that his decision would not set a precedent for city legislation overruling government standards.