In the News

Moran backs safety, security of NBAF

Manhattan Mercury

Savannah Rattanavon

Following Facebook users spamming a Manhattan City Commission livestream with safety concerns, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said federal officials thoroughly reviewed several high-security standards before selecting Manhattan as the site for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

Moran, as well as other local leaders, toured the Biosafety Level-4 facility Friday, which is nearing its construction completion. He spoke with local media at the K-State Office Park building afterward.

NBAF will replace the aging Plum Island facility later this year, and it will play a leading role in the country’s defense against agriculture- and livestock-related diseases. Officials expect NBAF to start initial operating capabilities in May and for it to be fully operational in 2023.

On Tuesday, people flooded a Manhattan City Commission livestream with nearly 2,000 comments questioning the safety of having NBAF in Manhattan. Some commentators mentioned an unlikely theory of the coronavirus’ origins. World Health Organization experts concluded that the coronavirus probably didn’t leak from a Wuhan, China, lab, the Associated Press reported in February.

Moran said like all things in life, there is risk involved, but because choosing a site for NBAF was a three-year competitive process beginning about 15 years ago, officials checked and rechecked its quality standards, which included safety and security, for the Manhattan site.

“I know from the very beginning this was being built to include all the safety features that were known to be necessary and useful at the time,” Moran said. “Because of the competition, even after Manhattan was selected, other locations wanted this facility and they reviewed it again to make certain. ... Standards were increased and increased safety and security were built into this NBAF facility.

“I saw it today in the size of the concrete walls, the high beams, the amount of steel, the shutters that cover up the windows (and) the air filtration system,” Moran continued. “So while nothing is risk-free, everything that can practically be done to assure that this facility is as safe as it can be (has been done).”

After Tuesday’s meeting, city officials found a podcast and articles that may have sparked the comments. Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, a conservative podcaster and supporter of former President Donald Trump, released a podcast questioning NBAF and Plum Island on April 13. Maras-Lindeman also wrote an article asserting the 116th Congress and the Senate Agriculture Committee concealed information about NBAF.

The NBAF website says the laboratory will be completely self-contained and isolated from all other areas of the facility. There are six other facilities of this caliber in operation, five of which also are located in large metro areas.

“The facility will have a specially designed air-handling system that will prevent the release of any hazardous materials out of the research space,” the page reads. “All waste materials will be sterilized, heat treated, incinerated, and/or decontaminated with disposal strictly regulated. Employees will be strictly supervised by experts in foreign animal and zoonotic diseases.”

Moran said it is important that a facility such as NBAF be headquartered in the U.S., so it can respond to any potential related threats first hand and do its own research to protect its food supply.

“It means a significant opportunity for us and our state to develop a workforce related to science, research, engineering, veterinary medicine, and most importantly, it helps make Americans and the world safer from an agro-terrorist attack, from release of a virus, so this is a major circumstance occurring in Kansas,” he said.

Moran said the $1.25 billion facility is expected to create hundreds of job opportunities, both operational and science-related, and it is positioned to attract business and research facilities in the private sector to the state to augment its research.

“This is an exciting development for Kansas and I think this is the most significant investment by the federal government on a project,” he said. “... One of the things I learned at today’s visit is that there is a specific laboratory that is designed to combine the private sector and the public sector to work together to find the applications of the research that is developed here to make our food supply safer and animals healthy. So (NBAF is) a huge investment by the federal taxpayers and a great opportunity for employment for people who live in the region and work here and the businesses that can grow up around it. This is different from many things that have happened in Washington, D.C., as far as its direct impact on the future of a state.”

Federal officials project that workers will achieve substantial completion of the facility this October with the facility becoming fully operational in 2023.