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One city's fight over biomed plans

The prospect of animal testing in a company laboratory provokes residents in Chandler, Ariz.

By Faye BowersStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 31, 2007



Chandler, Ariz.

Little did officials in Chandler – one of the fastest-growing cities in the country – know the resistance they would meet in trying to retool their city's plan for attracting future business prospects.

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When Covance, a multinational drug-testing company, elected to build a $44 million laboratory here – where it will test chemical and medical compounds on animals – residents, as well as national and international animal rights groups, mounted a vigorous campaign to block it.

At least two groups have formed that lead protests, marches, and educational sessions for neighborhood gatherings. And the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a Washington organization whose goal is to find an alternative to animal testing, is backing one of the groups in a lawsuit against the city of Chandler.

"I've never seen anything like this," says Dave Bigos, assistant to the mayor and Chandler City Council. "We have not only local people and organizations expressing their views, but national and international organizations, too."

It's certainly an emotionally charged issue – a 21st-century clash of "not in my backyard" arguments against a city's desire to have a vibrant business community.

On the one hand, animal rights activists want an end to testing toxic materials in animals – not just in Chandler, but everywhere. On the other hand, Chandler's city planners want to grow the local economy, and Covance wants a lab to service clients in the Western United States.

Center of the microchip industry

An upscale suburb of about 250,000 people on Phoenix's southeast side, Chandler has long been the center of the microchip industry in the Phoenix area. It's home to both Intel and Motorola. But as officials from Chandler began to see a need to attract other types of businesses to sustain the city's high quality of living and compete in the global economy, they realized they had to move beyond the microchip industry.

"We decided that we needed to diversify our base," says Mayor Boyd Dunn. "We wanted to get into the biomedical field. The governor has made it her priority."

Indeed, Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) created Science Foundation Arizona, which partners with businesses to expand the state's bioscience and high-tech industries. And she's dedicated $100 million of state funds over the next four years to further develop such industries.

When Covance began looking to build a lab in the desert Southwest, some 17 communities vied for the opportunity to host the company. Chandler officials took tours of the company's labs in other towns and visited with officials in those towns. They also spoke with US government officials charged with oversight of Covance's facilities. Covance eventually selected Chandler and purchased property there in 2005.

From there, however, the deal has been steeped in controversy.

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