For first responders decontaminating a scene, exposure to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) elements presents significant danger since first responders are at risk of being contaminated, and contaminated individuals entering a hospital can shut down the facility. Removing hazardous material generally takes the dedication of skilled personnel, time, and the proper equipment.
First responders are looking for mass decontamination products that they can quickly set up and use and expand if necessary, according to Ron Nolting, Vice President of Hydro-Therm Inc. of Cumming, GA. A high-pressure power washer with three nozzles that operates on a 2.5 inch discharge, their system can operate a five-person shower to remove contaminants in a controlled environment.
The Hydro-Therm TridentOne, a mass decontamination shower system, can deliver a low-pressure, high-volume water shower producing a wall of water using patented telescoping arms and three 150-gallon-per-minute nozzles. For a water source, the system is connected directly to a fire hydrant through a standard adapter, according to Nolting.
Risk to Skin
Cell death may take place in individuals with high doses of CBRN exposure, while lower radiation doses and exposure to chemicals may result in changes in cellular function.
Quicker response times for mass decon systems are key, according to Amit Kampoor, President of First Line Technology LLC. of Chantilly, VA, who launched the company in 2003, “They want to set up in a more expedient way.” A small-business supplier, First Line’s products are sold through GSA Schedule contracts and other contractual vehicles.
Concerned about the waste resources generated by a wet CBRN decon solution, Kampoor’s company sells a dry decon wipe to first responders, abandoning the company’s previous practice of selling tents and shelters for mass decontamination. First Line markets its wipe as a one-time-use product that users can then throw away. In addition to selling Reactive Skin Decontamination Lotion (RSDL), First Line produces FiberTect, a dry decon product featuring a three-layer, flexible, drapeable, non-woven composite substrate for absorbing chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals, and pesticides.
Not all vendors agree on the merits of dry decon solutions. “It takes a lot of water to clean up powder,” said Adam Havey, Executive Vice President of the BioDefense Division at Emergent BioSolutions of Rockville, Md. “We haven’t done any experiments with dry solutions.”
Havey noted that some powder-based dry decon solutions could be blown away in a windy operational scenario when minutes and response times count and confusion and missteps may cost lives.
“Trends we’re seeing are that the customers are looking for (decon) products that can reduce time and energy,” Havey said. His publicly traded company’s individual-use decontamination packet, RSDL, is a sponge-based product with an active ingredient. Sold in individual packets, RSDL can handle all conventional chemical warfare decon threats to people, according to Havey, including tabun, sarin, soman, cyclohexyl sarin, nerve agent, mustard, and T-2 toxin. He contrasts RSDL with older, water-based mass decontamination products, which he claims are less effective.
Emergent BioSolutions officials are seeing an increased demand for the product, particularly among first responders and foreign military, according to Havey.
The Joint Service Personnel/Skin Decontamination System (JSPDS) is a system developed in conjunction with the Department of Defense for decontaminating the skin of warfighters exposed to chemical warfare agents. JSPDS consists of RSDL and Training RSDL, according to Meko Neri, an Emergent BioSolutions spokesperson. “Training RSDL is a lower-cost, inert version of RSDL used as an RSDL simulant in training scenarios,” she said.
DoD officials approved Emergent BioSolutions-supplied RSDL and Training RSDL as the material solution for JSPDS in 2007. Since then, Emergent BioSolutions has provided RSDL to every uniformed military service, including the National Guard and Coast Guard. Several other federal agencies, such as the State Department and FBI, also provide their employees with RSDL. “Further, within the Coast Guard, RSDL is a component to an egress kit which allows Coast Guardsmen to safely exit contaminated vessels,” Neri said.
On the dry decon solution side, First Line Technology also sells a reactive skin decontamination lotion that users exposed to chemical warfare may apply, according to Kampoor. It is very difficult for many border patrol agents, first responders, and military personnel to go to a central location after a CBRN incident, so a mass decon product like a shower set up in a central location doesn’t work well for their needs, according to Kampoor. Border patrol agents in the Southwest, for example, sometimes patrol hours away from their central duty office, given the length of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“They want you to keep it simple, easy to use and deploy,” Kampoor said of first responders, border patrol agents, and military personnel.
DRS Technologies Inc., a subsidiary of Finmeccanica SpA, headquartered in Arlington, Va., provides a 526-lb. version of its Joint Service Transportable Decontamination System-Small Scale (JSTDS-SS), a self-contained unit that can work with water as hot as 175 degrees Fahrenheit, while a more lightweight, more expeditionary 320-lb version can heat water up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Jim Fritts, Senior Program Manager at the company’s Environmental Systems business in Florence, Ky., the JSTDS-SS fits on a flatbed truck and is operational by a two-person team in less than 90 minutes.
The JSTDS-SS is designed for thorough decontamination of non-sensitive military material, limited-use logistics bases, airfields, naval ships, ports, key command and control centers, and other fixed facilities with exposure to CBRN agents, contamination, and toxic industrial materials, according to officials at DRS.
In requests for proposals, federal buyers are looking for less expensive mass CBRN decon products, according to Kampoor. “They’re looking for smaller form factors that are more effective” in large-scale procurements, he said. “They want it in a smaller package that can cover a larger area.” They also want both bio and chem treated in one package. He noted that there’s been consolidation among First Line Technology’s decon competition in recent years.
“Eighty to 90 percent of contaminant can be removed from a person by disrobing after the accident,” Hydro-Therm’s Nolting said. “It contains the incident,” which is very critical if a person feels a burning sensation in his skin during a CBRN incident, he said. Fire departments, emergency management, and hospitals, including military ones, are primary users of Hydro-Therm’s Trident One.
The system sends out a wall of water 30 feet out toward the contaminated individuals. The heavy spray is likely to remove the remaining contaminant from them, according to Nolting, whose company has helped many hospitals become decon-compliant. Such a deluge of water, known as gross decon, is a good tool to use while a formal decon response is prepared, according to Nolting.
After all, Nolting pointed out that if 2,000 people have been decontaminated by CBRN, some or all of them are likely to die if they have to go through a lengthy line in a formal decon response. “If there are 2,000 people affected by decon, you can’t run them through a line,” Nolting said. “They would die.”
Hydro-Therm charges about $3,600 per unit for Trident One, and the product is on the authorized equipment list for sourcing products for the military. According to Nolting, Veterans Affairs hospitals and all branches of the military, in addition to county emergency management agencies across the country, have purchased Trident One for rapid delivery of water in a short period of time during a CBRN incident.
Vigilance is the key for border patrol agents, first responders, hospital staff members and military personnel, who may one day encounter a CBRN incident. “There’s no crystal ball telling what could happen,” Nolting said, reflecting on the unpredictable nature of CBRN incidents, which first responders, military, and border patrol agents are trained to respond to.