A Decontamination Game Changer

Last week, the way we remove chemical contamination from victims of a terror attack or chemical accident has changed… well, not quite yet, but it should soon.  A partnership between the US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the University of Hertfordshire in England and Public Health England found that “…removing clothes removes up to 90 percent of chemical contamination and wiping exposed skin with a paper towel or wipe removes another nine percent of chemical contamination.  After disrobing and wiping with a dry cloth, showering and drying off with a towel or cloth provides additional decontamination, bringing contamination levels down 99.9 percent.”

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Essentially, what they discovered was that despite recommendations for doing so, victims have often not been required to disrobe for decontamination.  When victims would progress through a decontamination (water spray down), much of the chemical they have been exposed to remains in the clothing and trapped against the skin.  Clearly this is not effective.

I see this new methodology being a significant change to how we decontaminate victims.  As the study hypothesizes, decontamination is much more effective when the chemical is wiped from the body after the victim disrobes.  Following this, they may progress then through a water spray.  This, essentially, adds a step to the typical protocols used in North America, Europe, and other locations.  I’m told the wipe methodology has been used in Japan for some time now.  I also believe that wipes have been in use by the US (and other) military forces for units in the field.

Links of interest:

HHS Press Release on the study.

Implementation of new protocols in the UK and other European nations

Many thanks to my colleague Matt for passing this information on to me.

As with any new procedure, the devil is in the details.  Standards must be established and adopted, supplies and equipment must be identified and obtained, personnel must be trained, and exercises must be conducted to validate.

I’m interested to hear opinions on these findings and recommendations, as well as thoughts on implementation in the US and abroad.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

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