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NEWS | Feb. 3, 2016

Yokota Bio Defends Against Unseen Hazards

By Airman 1st Class Delano Scott

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- They are the reconnaissance of the 374th Medical Group. From routine examinations of Yokota's water sources to conducting environmental health assessments for workplaces, the 374th Medical Support Squadron's bioenvironmental engineering flight works to protect base personnel from potential hazards one can come across in a military environment.

"We're here to take care of our people," said Tech Sgt. Nicholas Sweetman, 374 MSS bioenvironmental engineering flight chief. "We want to ensure a healthy and fit force by preventing illnesses and injuries from ever occurring."

As part of their preventative maintenance practices, Airmen of the bioenvironmental flight accomplish numerous tasks to prevent four different hazardous elements, including environmental, occupational health, radiation protection and industrial hygiene. Another essential aspect of the flight is how they guarantee environmental protection by ensuring the base water is drinkable.

"We follow the Environmental Protection Agency's laws and regulation," Sweetman said. "As water is distributed throughout the base, we go to different collection points to test it. We check for a huge array of different contaminants including metals, bacteria and chemicals."

The shop also works to prevent illnesses by ensuring occupational safety and health in the workplace and healthy living practices are being adhered to.

"Your medical providers don't come out and see you on a daily basis," Sweetman said. "Fortunately, we do. If you have a problem with mold in your home and you think it's causing an illness, we'll come and investigate. If you think you're experiencing negative health effects from water within your workplace, we'll come out and address those concerns."

There are Airmen who utilize high-powered x-rays to search aircraft for structural fractures and other career fields that use radiation to conduct their mission. Bioenvironmental engineers ensure everyone is protected against harmful radiation and it is their responsibility to monitor base radiation levels.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission set health standards so that you cannot be exposed over a certain intensity or frequency of radiation," Sweetman said. "We do regular testing of radiation equipment to ensure they remain safe to use."

Bioenvironmental Airmen have been identified as first responders because of their ability to assess what, if any, environmental or health risks may be present at a scene as a result of an incident.

"If a container of material spilled over, it could or could not be dangerous depending on the concentration," Sweetman said. "That's where the fire department would call us because they don't have the necessities to take care of the spill. We have the technical training and the necessary instruments to be able identify the substance."

It is easy for something like clean drinking water to be taken for granted. An Airman walking into their shop does not give a second thought to its safety. However, these things, amongst several other responsibilities that often go unnoticed, are thanks to the successful work of the bioenvironmental flight.

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