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As developers propose to locate biotechnology labs in communities across Massachusetts, this resident guide seeks to provide answers to common questions and misconceptions, prepared by industry experts at MassBio.


What type of research is being conducted in these labs and is it safe for our community?

The federal government designates four levels of biolab safety. These levels are commonly referred to as BSL, ranging from BSL-1 to BSL-4. A vast majority of the current lab inventory and future lab development is BSL-1 or BSL-2.  Within these level labs, precautions are typically taken to protect research from humans rather than the other way around.


Are dangerous microorganisms or genetic material released into the water or air?

No. Biotech companies operate under strict federal, state, and local guidelines in handling hazardous materials. Any pathogenic, infectious, or otherwise hazardous microorganisms or genetic material is rendered harmless before being released into the environment.


Who monitors biotechnology companies to ensure they are in compliance?

Biotechnology companies are subject to a range of federal, state, and local regulation including local community representatives involved in the industry project reviews. Organizations include but are not limited to the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Public Health, Department of Public Safety, Board of Health, and other local municipal entities.

Are animals used in biotechnology research? How are they handled?

Animals, primarily rodents such as rats, are a necessary component of scientific research. The FDA requires animal research and testing on all drugs and medical devices before they are tested in humans. In handling animals, all companies are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are required to conform to the standards of the Animal Welfare Act.


What’s a biotech lab look like and does it fit into my community?

Biotech labs across Massachusetts are housed in buildings that from the exterior appear very similar to office buildings. The major difference is these facilities require additional ventilation and heating & cooling equipment which is often located on the building’s roof.


How are biotech developments addressing climate change?

While some municipalities are adding carbon neutral mandates to new developments, much of the trend towards more environmentally friendly facilities is being led by industry.  As companies demand facilities that are better for the environment, developers are finding ways to provide them.  Industry is willing to pay more for these facilities as well.

Can people visit biotechnology companies to see what is going on?

Most companies welcome visitors at planned and controlled times and have programs with the local educational community to provide information and promote science education. In addition, Institutional Biosafety Committees, formed for those companies involved in recombinant DNA technology, include local representatives often chosen by the local Board of Health who visit companies on a regular basis.


What can my municipality do to ensure that companies are being safe?

One of the qualifications of the highest level of MassBio’s BioReady Communities is for a municipality to adopt the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Recombinant DNA guidelines.  Within these guidelines are strict protocols for incident reporting and Biosafety Committee registration.

Why should my municipality want a biopharma presence?

The biopharma industry employs more than 100,000 individuals in Massachusetts.  These are good paying jobs (average salary in 2020 was more than $190,000) for workers that predominantly need to work on-site rather than from home.  The on-site nature of the work supports ancillary business in the communities that they are located.  Additionally, despite perceptions, the industry does not just employ those with 4-year or advanced degrees.


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What is MassBio?

MassBio’s mission is to advance Massachusetts’ leadership in the life sciences to grow the industry, add value to the healthcare system, and improve patient lives. MassBio represents the premier global life sciences and healthcare hub, with 1,500+ members dedicated to preventing, treating, and curing diseases through transformative science and technology that brings value and hope to patients. Founded in 1985, MassBio works to advance policy and promote education, while providing member programs, events, industry information, and services for the #1 life sciences cluster in the world. For more information on MassBio and the Commonwealth's life sciences industry, visit