Portable decontamination for everyone

Published:  08 March, 2016

A portable hazmat and decontamination delivery system from Scott Safety is poised to revolutionise the CBRN response world, reports Jose Sanchez de Muniain.

One would not be blamed for thinking that the Light Decontamination System sounds too good to be true - a portable airborne and surface decontamination system that weighs only 22kg and that can decontaminate a 500m3 area in five minutes. And yet the data from numerous trials involving some of the world’s nastiest biological and chemical substances speak for themselves, including one trial where the system decontaminated 99.9999999% of anthrax in a 100m3 area in a matter of minutes.

For chemical and biological decontamination the Light Decontamination System is chemically agnostic so it can deliver a diverse range of decontaminants such as alkoxides, hydrogen peroxide, hypochlorous acid and peracetic acid esters. And for radiological and nuclear decontamination it can deliver trippable coatings, fixatives and other sequestering liquids.

The technology involves accelerating air to supersonic speeds and mixing it at 90° with the decontaminating liquid or powder. The air strips the droplets out and propels them out of the nozzle at high speeds – Mach 1 in the centre of the cone – and at a reduced size of 2-5 microns. The result is a very fine aerosol mist comprised of tiny droplets that exit the nozzle at an average rate of 14 trillion droplets a second, supercharged with a high amount of turbulent energy that ensures their spread.

The air and sheer power of the system is produced by the pressure in the 300-bar cylinders that are standard in all fire services. This means that there is no need for external power or moving parts and, in fact, the whole system is simplicity itself, consisting of a harness, refillable canister (for the decontaminant), BA cylinder, tube and high-tech nozzle.

For larger infrastructure requiring a capability of up to 2,000m3 Scott Safety is also launching the Remote Decontamination System, which includes the addition of a remotely operated 360° tripod that enables the system to be continuously refilled as necessary until an area is fully decontaminated.

The key to the technology’s effectiveness is the size of the droplets which it produces, which ensures an even and complete covering of all surfaces in a room, whether in the line of sight or out of sight. According to David Crouch, global product manager for military and civil defence at Scott Safety, a typical decontamination lab test result will show a ratio between line-of-sight and non-line-of-site decontamination coverage of 40:1 i.e. for every 40 times that an exposed surface is hit by the decontaminant, a non line-of-sight surface is hit only once. ‘With some of the better systems you can get 10 to one. With this system it is one to one, so there is uniform coverage regardless of complexity [of the area]. Another USP is that the Light Decontamination System will typically use 5% of the chemistry that traditional systems use to carry out the same decontamination process. So there are reduced logistics,’ said Crouch.

Extensive testing of the system has already been carried out – amongst others – by the Faculty of Military Health Sciences of the Czech Republic’s University of Defence, with substances such as the nerve agent VX – one of the most toxic chemical warfare agents – and sulphur mustard (mustard gas), on glass, steel and ceramic surfaces. Even with an excessive application of these toxic substances, the system has been proven to fully decontaminate surfaces within an hour. ‘But this is not just a military system. It can be used every day for other things, for example MRSA [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus], E. coli, listeria and tuberculosis. We have also tested against Smallpox and Ebola simulants and we are getting very good efficacy,’ said Crouch.

The system is not limited to decontaminating infrastructure. It can also be used to quickly decontaminate responders and their equipment following hazardous materials incidents such as fire, releases of hazardous materials at industrial locations, flood defence, motorway fuel spillages and even terrorist activity.

As the industry also learns more about the long-term effects of firefighter exposure to carcinogens and the link to occupational cancer, decontamination of BA-wearing personnel and their equipment at the incident scene is also a highly realistic application - enabling teams to return to the station in uncontaminated suits.

And if that wasn’t enough, the water payload of the LDS enables the system to be used for Class A and B fire fighting applications as well as for smoke scrubbing.

As the world awaits for the next terrorist incident, and following the UK Government’s plans to reduce the number of specialist decontamination units for fire and rescue services in England, this latest system might go a long way to provide a highly mobile, scalable solution that will help emergency responders deal with the unknown.

  • Operation Florian

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