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National Bio and Agro-defense Facility

Frequently asked questions

What is the NBAF project?

The National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, or NBAF, is the answer to an important national challenge — to ensure public health and the safety and security of our national food supply .The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) outbreak in 2020 confirms the importance of the project. NBAF will be a $1.25 billion, 580,000-square-foot facility in Manhattan, Kansas, that will provide integrated research, response and diagnostic capabilities to protect animal and public health. NBAF will replace an aging federal facility located on Plum Island, New York.

What is the lab's function?

As a biosafety level-3 (BSL-3), biosafety level-3 Agriculture (BSL 3-Ag), and biosafety level-4 laboratory (BSL-4), NBAF will provide the nation with integrated research and response capabilities to protect animal and public health. The facility also will enhance the nation's capability to protect livestock and the livestock industry from both naturally occurring and intentionally introduced disease threats. NBAF will conduct research on emerging zoonotic and animal diseases in order to develop vaccine countermeasures for foreign animal diseases and advanced test and evaluation capabilities.

What research will be conducted in NBAF?

NBAF will research biological threats that caused by foreign animal diseases (FADs) and zoonotic FADs, infectious diseases that can spread from animals to people. Researchers will conduct microbiological tests and develop new vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and/or help combat these diseases.

Why did Kansas pursue this project?

Kansas has a long history of protecting the American food supply and agriculture economy and has unique capabilities and infrastructure to contribute to the NBAF research mission.

What advantages does Kansas have?

Kansas offered the federal government a solution, not just a site. The state is uniquely qualified for NBAF because of its location and because it has the right kind of scientific assets and expertise in place to be applied immediately. Kansas has long-standing expertise in animal health research and veterinary sciences. Specifically, Kansas State University has nationally recognized expertise in zoonotic diseases, infectious diseases, and livestock medicine. In addition, Kansas State University is home to the Biosecurity Research Institute — a biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) and biosafety level-3 Agriculture (BSL-3Ag) laboratory — and the National Agricultural Biosecurity Center. NBAF research is being conducted at the Biosecurity Research Institute while NBAF is being built. The proximity to the Kansas City region’s Animal Health Corridor also is a distinctive advantage. The region is home to more than 120 animal health companies — including 37 global leaders — that employ over 13,000 animal health specialists.

What are some of the economic benefits?

This is an opportunity for a state that values agriculture and bio/agrosecurity. NBAF will create jobs, stimulate the state's innovation economy and heighten Kansas’ position as a global food systems and bioscience leader. The $1.25 billion NBAF project required 1,000 to 1,500 construction jobs and will create 350-400 permanent jobs at the lab. It will generate an estimated economic impact of $3.5 billion in its first 20 years and create a magnet for private biotechnology companies, professionals and support infrastructure. It also will result in collaborative opportunities for existing universities and research institutions and will help attract more top-flight researchers to the area.

Where is the site location?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security selected a site on the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan. The site provided land acquisition potential; highway access; environmental compatibility; adequate utility infrastructure; an available local work force for skilled labor and academic research; and proximity to agricultural, academic, medical and bioscience resources.

Why Manhattan?

Manhattan is home to Kansas State University — long recognized for its expertise in zoonotic, emerging, and reemerging infectious diseases and livestock medicine. The university's National Agricultural Biosecurity Center and Biosecurity Research Institute — the nation's most modern biosafety level-3 agricultural facility of its kind — demonstrate that state and local communities understand the significance of this type of research and can build a large-scale federal biocontainment facility.

Are there safety and security issues?

Not really. NBAF is designed to protect our nation, and the safety and security of the site itself, as well as the surrounding community, will be of paramount importance. NBAF will contain a biosafety level-4 laboratory, which will be completely self-contained and isolated from all other areas of the facility. Six existing biosafety level-4 facilities are in operation, five of which 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. 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.

Why does the current facility need to be replaced?

The facility at Plum Island is more than 60 years old and too small to meet America’s increasing research needs. In addition to lack of space, Plum Island does not have biosafety level-4 capabilities to be able to conduct research on the latest emerging zoonotic diseases.

If Manhattan already has the Biosecurity Research Institute, why do we need NBAF?

NBAF and the BRI will be complementary facilities. The BRI is a 113,000-square-foot facility designed for research on pathogens that threaten the nation's animal and plant-based agricultural systems. It is the only research facility to integrate plant pathology, food safety, entomology, veterinary medicine and molecular biology. As a biosafety level-4 facility, NBAF will take the research of the BRI a step further. It will be a livestock-only capable laboratory that will work on developing countermeasures for emerging zoonotic and animal diseases.

What are zoonotic diseases?

Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Examples are rabies, tuberculosis and Lyme disease.

Who will own the laboratory?

The federal government will own the facility. NBAF is being constructed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and after construction and commissioning of the facility, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will assume ownership.  USDA will then be responsible for operating the facility and conducting the research therein.

What is the timeline for the project?

In March 2006, the Heartland BioAgro Consortium and 28 other interested organizations submitted formal expressions of interest to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, some including more than one state site in their application. In August 2006, DHS reduced the list to 17 sites in 11 states for the next phase of the competitive process. Manhattan and Leavenworth, Kansas were among those. In July 2007, DHS further reduced the list to five sites in five states, including Manhattan, Kansas, and Plum Island, NY was added as number six. DHS then began preparing the environmental impact statement, or EIS, which was an extremely thorough, 15-month review of the site locations.

The final EIS, issued in December 2008, was prepared following the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and it recommended Kansas as the preferred NBAF location. The DHS record of decision to build NBAF in Kansas was signed on January 12, 2009 and it was published in the Federal Register on January 16, 2009; the last week of the Bush administration.

The project was reviewed by the Obama administration, and the decision to locate NBAF in Kansas on the merits was affirmed by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano during her visit to Kansas State University in February 2009.

Site preparation began in 2010 and was completed in 2012, after which construction began on the central utility plant in 2013.  Design of the laboratory was completed and laboratory construction began in 2015 with an anticipated 5-year timeline for completion. It is expected the NBAF will be operational by 2022-2023.

Facility design has been completed with plans for laboratory construction to begin in 2015. The central utility plant is under construction. It is expected the NBAF will be operational by 2022-2023.

What was the EIS process?

Each site underwent a 15-month-long process to prepare an environmental impact statement or EIS, an extremely thorough and technical review. This process was led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and considered environmental and ecological effects, as well as the overall viability of the site locations.

Were there opportunities for public input?

Yes. In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, there were extensive opportunities for public comment and involvement. These include public meetings organized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Manhattan, Kansas, in August 2007 and July 2008. Public input also was welcomed via phone, email and mail, and all comments on the environmental impact statement were considered before the record of decision was issued.