The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) will play a key role in protecting our livestock, food supply and public health.

This describes the NBAF mission, and it’s a very important one. As we’ve discussed in previous columns, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiated a commitment to safety during the planning and design of the facility. USDA will continue to extend that safety culture from the planning and design stages into the full operational capability of the facility.

In this month’s column, we are taking previous safety discussions a little bit further, sharing in more detail about how we’re specifically working to protect what matters most — NBAF employees, our community and the region we call home. Our emphasis has been hiring people who will focus on safety, health and security. We feel that it is critically important to share with you the measures we are taking here at NBAF to ensure safety.

USDA recently welcomed Mr. David Keffer to the NBAF team as the Safety, Health and Environmental Management (SHEM) director. Mr. Keffer is no stranger to public service or to agriculture – he grew up on a farm and spent a large part of his career serving in the Navy. He is very interested in the work USDA does to protect American agriculture and the global food supply. David will supervise NBAF’s efforts to ensure the general safety and health of NBAF employees, as well as making sure NBAF meets or exceeds environmental regulations.

When it comes to the safety of NBAF employees, USDA’s goal is to be accident-free and prevent any injuries. The SHEM team will work closely with our biosafety staff, who cover how disease agents are handled in the laboratory, to meet this goal. NBAF has an organized safety team, which includes the SHEM director, BioRisk manager and the NBAF security director. They will meet regularly and work together to ensure proper emergency procedures are in place so that our NBAF employees and our community are protected.

To ensure our workers are capable of doing their jobs, the NBAF SHEM team has placed a priority on identifying options for providing occupational health services for physicals, respiratory and safety evaluations. Occupational health services will become a key part of the NBAF emergency response group, taking on the role of advancing communication for all issues related to health safety — including our hospitals, the city of Manhattan and the state of Kansas.

Protecting the environment during operations is also a priority with NBAF SHEM. The SHEM team is working closely with DHS, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the Manhattan city government and others to ensure NBAF will continue to meet environmental requirements. Many environmental permits are already in place, each with very specific requirements. Mr. Keffer’s team will use an environmental management system to look for ways we can continue to meet or exceed those requirements. NBAF is designed to address and contain any potential issues and handle them inside the facility. Any waste leaving the facility will be managed to ensure no viable pathogens remain. Waste within the laboratory will also be managed. Any byproducts from our laboratory or research activities will pass through multiple high temperature, high pressure processes before being sent to the incinerator to eliminate any possibility of contamination remaining in that waste.

We continue to methodically march toward full completion and occupancy of NBAF. We are very proud of the work that’s been done and the people we’ve hired onto our team. And we’re proud of the emphasis we place on doing things the right — and safe — way. After all, we live here, too. We want NBAF to be a model of safety and a point of pride for the Manhattan and global communities.

Ken Burton, DVM, is National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) coordinator.

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