NBAF under construction, due in 2022

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​Construction of a $1.25 billion foreign animal disease laboratory began May 27 with a groundbreaking in Manhattan, Kansas.

The planned 570,000-square-foot National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility is expected to be operational in 2022, according to the Department of Homeland Security. It will be used by the DHS and two Department of Agriculture agencies, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Agricultural Research Service, for conducting research, training veterinarians in emergency preparedness and response, and developing disease countermeasures.

It is being built to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which is off the coast of Long Island, New York, and has been used for work on foreign animal diseases since 1954.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, attended the groundbreaking ceremony and was administrator of APHIS when work toward replacing Plum Island began nearly a decade ago. The DHS began accepting proposals for the NBAF site in January 2006 and announced selection of the Manhattan location in January 2009.

National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility timeline - Sources: Department of Homeland Security, Kansas State University

Dr. DeHaven said the new facility in Kansas will give more room for the agencies involved in protecting against foreign and emerging diseases of livestock and more biosecurity for that work. “There are really three tenants and three separate functions that happen at Plum Island that will now happen in a bigger way at this new facility,” he said.

He noted that APHIS employees will use the facility in providing rapid diagnostic tests for foreign animal diseases; ARS employees will use it for research on better preventing and responding to foreign animal diseases, including vaccine development; and DHS Science and Technology Directorate employees will use it in developing counterterrorism measures.

“This will provide better security and far more space than what currently exists on Plum Island,” he said.

The NBAF will give the nation a laboratory meeting the highest biosafety level classification—biosafety level 4—for use in studying foreign animal diseases and emerging diseases affecting livestock and other large animals, DHS information states.

The improvements will help federal agencies ensure the safety and security of the vulnerable U.S. food supply, Dr. DeHaven said. He cited the damage done by the naturally occurring outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza, which had killed more than 40 million birds by the start of July, in describing a need to improve detection of outbreaks quickly and prepare vaccines or other measures.

He also noted that the NBAF likely will provide job opportunities for veterinarians involved in animal diagnostics and research.

In a statement about the groundbreaking for the laboratory, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the NBAF’s advanced laboratory capabilities will help protect the nation’s food supply and public health. 

“We will soon be able to ensure availability of vaccines and other rapid response capabilities to curb an outbreak,” he said in the statement.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the DHS announcement that replacing aging laboratory facilities has been a USDA and DHS priority.

“This innovative new facility is capable of producing the research needed to protect our nation’s farmers, food supply, public health, and the rural economy,” he said.

The building site had been cleared of other structures several years earlier, and construction of the building’s central utility plant is scheduled for completion in October.