The Van Trump Report

Long-Awaited National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility Opens in Kansas

After nearly two decades of planning, the new, state-of-the-art National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) has finally opened in Manhattan, Kansas. The $1.25 billion facility, a level-four is the first of its kind in the United States and will allow scientists to study and diagnose critical animal diseases. 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the requirements for the state-of-the-art facility, which will replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, a biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) facility that is nearly 70 years old.

“Historically, the United States did not have a laboratory facility with maximum biocontainment (BSL-4) space to study high-consequence zoonotic diseases affecting large livestock, and U.S. scientists had to rely on other countries’ facilities for that type of research,” the USDA explains. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will share NBAF’s operational responsibilities.

The new NBAF facility, adjacent to Kansas State University, sits on 48-acres that includes more than 700,000 square feet of total building space. The main building, at 500,000 square feet, includes containment laboratories, animal holding facilities, office spaces, facility support areas, and required safety systems — such as redundant HEPA air filtration and waste decontamination systems.

The lab’s mission is to protect American agriculture, farmers, and citizens against animal diseases that threaten the food supply, agricultural economy, and public health. That means working with existing and newer diseases, including ones that can spread from livestock to humans. The pathogens currently at Plum Island will be transferred to Manhattan at a later date, though officials aren’t at liberty to disclose details due to safety and security reason.  

It’s not clear exactly what exact pathogens the NBAF will research but as a biosafety level 4 facility, researchers will be allowed to work with high risk microbes that have the greatest containment requirements. “The microbes in a BSL-4 lab are dangerous and exotic, posing a high risk of aerosol-transmitted infections,” according to the CDC. “Infections caused by these microbes are frequently fatal and without treatment or vaccines.”

Safety protocols are extremely high. BSL-4 labs must have a dedicated supply and exhaust of air, among other facility construction requirements. At NBAF, there are 976 high efficiency particulate air filter caissons that can be sealed off from a service area above the labs. All work in BSL-4 labs must be performed in a high-level biological safety cabinet or by wearing a full body positive pressure suit. Lab rules include changing clothes before entering, chemical showers before taking off the suit, showering upon exiting and decontaminating all materials.

For now, staff is conducting compliance and regulatory work, preparing protocols and operating procedures, and training before working with any pathogens, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. “Safety and security is the primary goal,” said Ken Burton, the NBAF deputy director. “And we don’t do anything to move into science until we feel that everything is safe and secure to be able to do that.” (Sources: USDA, Topeka Capital Journal, Reuters)

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