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The Secret of Success Is Clean Living

By Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo., Aug. 1, 2000 – Once students at the E.F. Bullene Chemical Defense Training Center here exit the “hot zone,” they still have a lot of work to do before they're free to go.

As their culminating training event, the students had donned protective gear and were exposed to real nerve agents. Lethal ones. The thrill ride's over, now come the chores.

The first is an extensive “doff,” or disrobing, procedure, said John Morrissey, the facility deputy director. “It’s a very specific and detailed process that’s designed to prevent contaminating the skin and undergarments.”

Students work in the buddy system, and instructors monitor every step closely. The procedure begins with students helping each other wipe down their protective hoods with diluted bleach.

The outer protective garments come next. Taking off the boots can get a little tricky. Morrissey pointed to a low wall between the first and second rooms in the doff area. He explained that the students have to take off one boot and swing that foot over the ledge without touching the floor in the first room. Straddling the ledge, they have to reach back, take off the other boot and swing that foot into the second room -- leaving the contaminated garments in a metal bin in the first room.

At this point male and female students go in opposite directions to separate, identical shower areas where they remove their undergarments -- cotton shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes -- and step into the showers before finally removing their protective masks.

The students stashed all their personal belongings in lockers before suiting up for training, Morrissey said. That includes their underclothes and jewelry. This is not the place to forget and wear a watch or wedding band into training.

Facility rules dictate that any personal items accidentally worn into a contaminated area must be burned for 15 minutes at 1,000 degrees. “And even then you can’t have the item back,” Morrissey said.

After the students hit the showers, the real work begins for the facility's full-time maintenance staff. Safely cleaning up all the contaminated equipment left behind is no easy task, and the staff has to earn annual certification at it.

First, the battle-dress overgarments, or chemical protective suits, sit in steel bins overnight to “off-gas” -- air out, Morrissey said. After one night, contamination levels in the bins are checked using gas chromatography. Sometimes a second night in the bins is needed. After off- gassing, they’re sterilized in an autoclave.

The facility is authorized to use each suit only four times, Morrissey said. Each garment is bar-coded after being inspected before first use. The bar code is scanned after each time the suit goes through the autoclave. The garment is destroyed after the fourth use.

The cotton undergarments are laundered by regular means. Rubber items, such as boots, gloves and masks, are dipped into large tanks of disinfectant and then manually inspected for leaks. Morrissey said the drinking tubes in masks are also sanitized. Mask filters are used only once and then destroyed.

Even throwing out the trash is complicated here. Disposable items are shredded and then sit around while being monitored for the “time-weighted average” of their level of contamination. “That’s the level of contamination you can work at without protection,” Morrissey said. A contractor then disposes of the items.

Waste water poses a whole other set of issues. All waste water is collected in tanks, treated to neutralize the chemical agents and pH-balanced to drinking water standards. "Even then it’s hauled out and burned at 1,000 degrees for 15 minutes,” he said.

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