More to bioenvironmental engineering than HAZMAT

Technicians work in background to protect people, mission

Hazardous materials and gas masks are usually what come to mind when people think about bioenvironmental engineering. However, this career field is more diverse than people may realize.

The 88th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron’s Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight has a unique mission. It covers day-to-day things such as gas mask fitting and water testing while also having the capability to provide HAZMAT expertise during real-world emergency events.

Most of its focus is on preventing people from becoming patients, unit officials say. The technicians do this by surveying workspaces for possible hazards before they can cause illness or injury. If there’s a potential to cause harm, they will be there to mitigate it.

The Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight works out of Bldg. 675 on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Area B. Its four sections are Occupational Health, Radiation Safety, Environmental Health, and Readiness and Training.

Much of the work they do tends to happen behind the scenes, officials said.

The Environmental Health section works to ensure clean drinking water by continuously monitoring the base water system for safety and cleanliness, as well as maintaining compliance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

“Bioenvironmental Engineering works to protect workers and the base population from health hazards through a series of engineering, administrative and (personal-protective equipment) controls,” said Staff Sgt. Marc LeJeune, NCOIC of Environmental Health. “We support all occupational shops on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, from Air Force research labs and flightline maintenance technicians to hospital workers.”

Routine office and workspace inspections help ensure a healthy environment for military and civilian personnel.

“Bioenvironmental is important because we allow for the mission to be completed and make sure workers can return to their families to live a normal healthy life,” LeJeune said.

While HAZMAT and gas masks are important, they are only a fraction of what the Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight does.

“The primary focus for Bioenvironmental Engineering is on prevention, identifying occupational and environmental health hazards, and preventing exposures to Airmen and their families,” said Lt. Col. John Stubbs, Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight commander. “We manage vital programs that prevent injury and illness and ensure the wing mission can be accomplished.”

Without the unit’s oversight, base industrial shops could be working with chemicals and processes that are immediately dangerous to life and health, officials said.

Technicians ensure that drinking water in Child Development Centers is free of lead and heavy metals. They also regularly test for radon gas in these same facilities to prevent children and workers from being exposed to potentially cancer-causing environments.

Over the years, the Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight has faced several real-world events.

On Sept. 11, 2019, it responded to a report of a suspicious envelope containing an unknown white powder. Airmen quickly suited up and took samples to analyze. The powder was found to be benign.

Another event happened May 18, 2018, when a commercial truck spilled 55 gallons of phosphoric acid outside the Air Force Research Laboratory on Area B. Bioenvironmental technicians responded and determined the extent of the spill and correct course of action to mitigate the material.

Their actions kept the WPAFB population from harm while also preventing further damage to base infrastructure, officials said.

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