Researchers developing universal personal decontamination system

Tuesday, 23 December, 2008

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the US have taken a major step towards creating a universal personal decontamination system for almost any toxic or hazardous chemical.

The scientists have reported on the development of a layered wipe that can be used to rapidly decontaminate people and equipment exposed to a wide range of military and industrial chemicals, including the blister agent sulphur mustard. These wipes could assist in saving the lives of soldiers and civilians.

Under a study conducted by LLNL's Forensic Science Centre, researchers evaluated 30 different decontamination materials for removing gross chemical contamination from surfaces. The results showed that a non-woven dry wipe material with an activated carbon core sandwiched between two absorbent layers turned in the top performance.

The decontamination system currently used by the military — Reactive Skin Decontamination Lotion (RSDL) — is effective for a small subset of industrial chemicals and chemical warfare agents. However, according to LLNL chemical engineer William Smith: “By combining the existing military decontamination system with this wipe, there is promise for treating nearly every chemical. You're in much better shape using both technologies than with either one alone.”

The Lab's Forensic Science Centre evaluated existing and novel materials for its chemical decontamination capabilities. It looked at the ability of the combined system to absorb sulphur mustard, a toxic liquid that causes skin blistering, as well as sulphuric acid, nitric acid, methylparathion and phosphorous trichloride.

The studies found:

  • The newly developed fabric exhibits excellent resistance to corrosive chemicals and minimises vapour hazards after decontaminating toxic chemicals.
  • The layered wipe can absorb a large volume of most liquids, while maintaining its integrity.
  • The fabric is flexible so that it conforms to the surface being cleaned.

The next steps for advancing the decontamination system are to conduct field trials of the wipe and RSDL used in conjunction to evaluate their usability and to test the two systems' efficacy with other chemical agents and industrial chemicals.


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