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Kansas State University
128 Dole Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506
785-532-2535
media@k-state.edu
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Prepared by: Scott Rusk, director of Pat Roberts Hall, home to K-State's Biosecurity Research Institute, 785-532-1333, jrusk@k-state.edu

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

OP-ED: HIGH TECHNOLOGY AND TRAINING MAKE BIOCONTAINMENT RESEARCH SAFE

The prospect of a high-level animal disease lab being built in Manhattan can seem daunting, particularly for those not familiar with the technological safeguards of the facility, operational approaches for safety and the numerous precautions employed by the researchers who work with pathogens.

Questions surrounding the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility have ranged from what researchers will be studying to how safe such labs are for the community. Since K-State has experience building and commissioning a like facility we want to answer those questions.

K-State's BRI -- Biosecurity Research Institute - is a biosafety level-3 biocontainment research and training facility that can accommodate high-consequence pathogen research on food animals, food crops and food processing under one roof.

The BRI, in Pat Roberts Hall, is equipped with multiple waste treatment, air handling, and heating and cooling systems. All air leaving the biocontainment areas is filtered so it is free of infectious agents. All water used is heat and pressure treated to destroy infectious materials. All materials leaving the biocontainment areas are sterilized, and workers themselves go through a number of decontamination steps to prevent the release of infectious materials.

To ensure that biocontainment is maintained, uninterrupted power is provided to the BRI from two sources. Should those both go down, a diesel-powered generator would kick on. Just like electricity, steam and heating capabilities are very important for the safe operation of a biocontainment facility. Without steam, critical sterilization equipment could not be used. The BRI has six high-pressure boilers, two more than required. The boilers are fueled by natural gas and would also switch over to a reserve diesel tank should that fuel source be lost. These backup systems ensure continual and reliable operation.

Before active research can take place, all operating systems must be extensively evaluated so that the building's performance can be predicted. The very same technology and standards will be used at the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility.

In addition to technology, workers at biocontainment labs across the nation are trained in not only how to protect themselves, but how to secure specimens in case of an emergency. Awareness combined with in-depth knowledge of what's being studied go a long way to reduce the likelihood of accidents.

Can events happen that result in the release of infectious material? While highly unlikely, such a scenario is not impossible. That's why new biocontainment facilities are designed and built with the safeguards above. Just like using a seatbelt and having airbags reduce the risk of injury in a car accident, safety practices, proper equipment and training help make biocontainment research safe.

The diseases to be studied at the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility affect agricultural animals, the nation's food supply and the public. As it stands today, the nation is not prepared to meet such threats. Safe research on animal diseases is desperately needed, which is what the facility will deliver. To not pursue this mission puts Americans at further risk.