BOSTON—A court settlement last month that requires an environmental assessment of the military's biological warfare program could bolster efforts to define the impact of other federally funded research programs.

The Defense Department agreed to such an assessment February 12 to resolve a suit brought by the Foundation on Economic Trends, a public interest organization founded by Jeremy Rifkin. The suit, filed last fall in U.S. District Court, claimed that the Pentagon had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to consider the potential environmental impacts of the biological weapons research program, which involves researchers at military, corporate, and university laboratories in at least 21 states.

Under terms of the settlement, the Defense Department will have 15 months to assess issues of public health and safety, including emergency procedures for workers and risks arising from the possibility that pathogenic organisms could be released into the environment at these various...

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